Published: 12:03, 20 July 2014
Traders have voted in favour of charging businesses a levy to make improvements to Canterbury.
As many as 64% opted "yes" in a ballot to turn the city centre into a Business Improvement District (BID).
The Canterbury Connected BID will mean £2.5 million is invested in schemes including Christmas lights, floral displays and street cleaning over five years.
It is designed to improve the High Street and surrounding areas, making it more appealing for shoppers, tourists, residents and business owners.
The initiative divided traders, some of whom were against being charged a levy on top of the hefty business rates they already pay.
But only 54% of the city centre's businesses bothered to vote. Despite this, all of them will have to pay the levy as the vote was won by a straight majority of those who did take part.
The levy charged will be 1.5% of the rateable value of each business.
Canterbury is among more than 180 places in the country to adopt the BID scheme, which will come into effect in the city in October.
Chairman of the Canterbury Connected BID shadow board, Clive Relf, says: "This vote in favour of the BID means we have a real opportunity to transform the centre of the city, for the benefit of everyone.
"The ballot result is a real endorsement of the high quality business plan we put together and I am grateful to the many individuals and organisations who pledged their support and worked so hard to achieve this success."
He adds: "I urge all businesses in the city to get involved with the BID – whether by standing for membership of the board, providing feedback on our proposals or offering their expertise and helping to make sure our initiatives are a success. Together we can make a difference."
The current shadow board will continue until elections are held for a permanent board in February 2015.
Revivals clothes shop owner Debbie Barwick, who is also a member of the Canterbury Independent Traders' Alliance, was "disappointed" by the result of the ballot.
She says: "I worked out that of the 351 traders out of 650 that voted, 225 voted yes and 126 voted no.
"Obviously the small traders are disappointed. 126 of us definitely didn't want the BID, which is quite a high number. It's such a shame that more people didn't vote."
Ms Barwick thinks more should be done to attract people into Canterbury in the first place, including reversing the council's decision to sell off city centre car parks.
She adds: "What's the point in brightening up the place with flower baskets and Christmas lights if there aren't any customers to see them?"
The money raised by the levy will only be spent within the city centre, and on initiatives agreed in a business plan.
Plans include enhanced street cleaning and bulk-buying of utilities to help reduce costs for individual businesses.
There are also proposals to pay for Christmas lights displays, which were removed last year in a controversial decision by the city council to no longer fund them.
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