Businesses are being encouraged to agree an extra levy on their rates to help pay for attractions such as arts, food and culture events that will draw more people into the town.

RTW Together, a group that connects local businesses in a town partnership, is asking them to look at the idea of creating a Business Improvement District [BID].

This would see all business ratepayers within a defined area charged a levy, typically 1.5 per cent of their rates, which would be spent on agreed improvements that would benefit the town.

The levy could see a payment increase ranging from £50 to hundreds of pounds, depending on the size of the business.

In some of the 270 BIDs formed nationwide, this has seen Christmas lights erected, food festivals held and areas pedestrianised. The BID agreement lasts for five years before being voted on again.

The idea is that the greater footfall brought by the improvements would bring benefits well worth paying the extra fee.

Members of companies would work with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and RTW Together to decide how to best spend the money.

BID expert Ben Collins briefed leaders from the council and businesses, as well as MP Greg Clark, at a networking event organised by RTW Together on Friday November 17 at Woods restaurant.

Town Manager Karen Pengelly said plans are still in the Feasibility Stage (the first of five), which includes establishing a need and raising awareness.

“When businesses collaborate and work together, things tend to be improved.
“For retail, food and beverage we are looking at increasing footfall with arts, food and culture events.

“It is now about starting that process over the next few months, asking businesses for their input, and it is very much the start of the conversation.”

While the exact area the lines would be drawn for the agreement has yet to be decided, it is widely thought the entirety of central Tunbridge Wells would be included.

A BID agreement would be decided in a ballot where business ratepayers affected would vote for or against implementing the plans.

In other towns, businesses typically vote around 80 per cent in favour at the first ballot and then around 90 per cent in subsequent votes.

Ms Pengelly added: “RTW Together will not be directing the bid, it is very much the businesses.

“As we start the consultation period, we are seeking ideas and visions for the future from businesses.

“It is those things that will be put forward as part of the business plan.”