The rise and fall of Dartmouth Business Improvement District: 2012-2016

We are publishing this report from the Dartmouth Chronicle with a few interjections in italics from reliable witnesses. (me)

By Contributed in Business

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2012

June: Dartmouth Business Forum chairman Paul Reach proposed setting up a Business Improvement District, following a failed bid to win a Mary Portas pilot town grant of up to £100,000.

He asked retailers to back a move to turn Dart­mouth into a BID town – and accept a one to 1.5 per cent increase in their business rates so that the cash could be used to market the town. He predicted the increase would probably provide around £60,000 a year.

July: Paul Reach announced the Business Forum had received the promise of a £20,000 grant from the South Devon Coastal Local Action Group to help form a BID.

August: The Business Forum was given a £500 grant by the town council to help fund an feasibility study into setting up a BID.

Paul Reach said the forum had already been promised £20,000 grant from the South Devon Coastal Local Action Group, another £8,000 from South Hams Council and £2,500 from the county council. The forum had put in £500 itself and was applying to the Awards for All lottery for £9,500.

Not forgetting of course the £2500 my own business the Dart Gallery put into the pot!

Mr Reach said if businesses representing more than 50 per cent of the total rates bill say yes, then all the businesses will have to find the extra cash – like it or not.

Mr Reach said the town’s Sainsbury store paid £600,000 a year in business rates on its own – which is some 25 per cent of the town’s total business rates bill – so a Sainsbury ’yes’ vote would be half way to the 50 per cent point.

Not actually correct, firstly the £640000 is rateable value not rates paid, and, as the total rateable value of the BID District is £7.6M this makes Sainsbury’s only 8.4% of the total.

October: Housing Minister Mark Smith MP confirmed that Dartmouth Business Forum had been accepted as town team partners by the Government and would receive a support package from the Association of Town Centre Management.

The package included a number of measures to generate business in the town, including shared learning with the help of retail experts and £10,000 towards establishing the BID.

The annoucement came after South Hams MP Dr Sarah Wollaston wrote to the Govern­ment in support of the forum’s application for backing.

Mr Reach said: ‘As a result of the funding, we now have enough to employ a consultant and look at the viability of Dartmouth as a BID.’

2013

January 25: The first meeting of the newly constituted BID team, with consultants The Mosaic Partnership, was held at the Flavel. With all the funding now secured the project could ‘start in anger’ and during this meeting Mo Aswat of Mosaic outlined the project and indicated he felt positive that the Dart­mouth BID would be a successful one.

March: A survey of businesses, asking them want they would like to see from the BID, was sent out and face-to-face meetings were held with business owners to explain the BID concept.

September: A proposed business plan for the BID was launched ahead of a month-long ballot to start in October 2013.

Up to 750 businesses in the designated BID area would be entitled to vote, including holiday cottages registered to pay business rates.

Actually 734 business rated premises, not Businesses. I estimate the number of businesses at 350. Each rated premise has a vote.

October: The final business plan was distributed. The Business Forum said: ‘This business plan for the next five years is the result of a 12- month project and has involved consultation with as many businesses as possible across all sectors.’

160 businesses in total through various channels.

October: Ballot papers were sent out to businesses within the defined BID area.

November: Businesses voted ‘yes’ to setting up a BID.

December 31: Dartmouth BID Ltd registered with Companies House, with two directors, Paul Reach and Francesca Johnson.

2014

January: The BID proposed asking the Queen to confer the ‘Royal’ title on Dartmouth.

January 26: The following additional directors were appointed: Peter Conisbee, Roger Chilcott, Kate Ryder, Alan Depledge, Nigel Way, Angie Cairns-Sharpe and Paul Downing.

January: The BID launched a series of workshops to look at how best to market the town.

March 5: The BID officially launched its five-year business plan at Ribeye Boats. BID chairman Paul Reach said: ’This £1m investment over five years by the businesses of Dartmouth is vital for the future of the economic welfare of the area.’

March: The ‘Royal Dartmouth’ idea was dropped after it caused some controversy.

April: A new working group was formed, comprising the BID, Dart Harbour, the town council and the TIC, with the aim of attracting more cruise ships to the town.

May: Former Dartmouth Chronicle reporter Phil Scoble was appointed BID manager from the beginning of June.

June: Paul Reach was replaced as chairman by Nigel Way.

Straight vote at the Board meeting.

June: South Hams Council sends out levy bills to businesses on behalf of the BID.

June: The BID was believed to have received more than 50 emails of complaint after levy bills were sent out by South Hams District Council on its behalf.

All BID’s go through this phase of protest from those who missed the project.

Among those protesting about the levy was businessman and then town councillor Dave Cawley, who said: ‘My business voted against the BID, as a town councillor I voted against it, as did the mayor of the time.

‘So why do I have to pay a private limited company £150 for no services? I do not have a shop and in monetary terms most of what I sell goes out of the country.

‘My business is small and although business rated, we are exempt like a lot of Dartmouth businesses.’

David needed to read the BID business plan, it answers all of these questions.

July 8: The Dartmouth Every Time brand was launched. The BID’s marketing company, Chaos, outlined how it could be used, along with a detailed outline of the BID’s railway and online marketing campaign due to begin in September.

July: After the BID levy bills went out, some businesses claimed they had been overcharged £50 – with some being asked for £150, instead of £100, and others are asked for £300 not £250, as stated on the original BID proposal.

BID manager Phil Scoble issued an apology on behalf of the board. Mr Scoble said: ‘We are truly sorry for any inconvenience or confusion this may have caused.’

July: Norton Park chalet owners claimed they were not notified of the BID vote in late 2013 and that the voting process was ‘flawed’.

July: Salcombe company Bangwallop was contracted for promotional photo shoots, enraging some Dartmouth photographers.

August: In response to concerns over the photography contract, the BID board promised to be more open and transparent in future.

August: BID manager Phil Scoble resigned.

August: Paul Reach resigned his seat on the BID board.

September: Mayor Rob Lyon asked the BID to ‘put local people first’, after an apology from Roger Chilcott over the way the photography contract was handled.

September: Alan Depledge resigned his seat on the BID board.

September: It was announced businesses which claimed they had been overcharged in July would have to pay the higher amounts after all.

September: The first of a series of business support workshops was held.

September: The Dartmouth Every Time railway station poster campaign was launched.

October: The BID came under fire at a town council meeting.

Cllr David Gent said: ‘If the BID was a person you would say it was accident prone and put it in a home.’

Angry town councillors wanted answers on where the levy money was being spent and what was happening with the leadership of the organisation since manager Phil Scoble quit last month.

Many were concerned that early mistakes – particularly the mix-up over incorrect levy bills – will not be repeated and are seeking detailed information on where the £180,000 a year generated by the BID is going.

The Levy bills were not incorrect, there was a misprint in the Business Plan. The correct levy bills went out following legal advice.

BID chairman Nigel Way said: ’It was a great shame that the detractors chose to try and denigrate the BID again.’

October: Francesca Johnson resigned her seat on the BID board to replace Mr Scoble as BID manager.

October: South Hams Council said that two-thirds of businesses liable for the BID levy had not yet paid.

November: BID manager Francesca Johnson asked for ideas for future projects.

November: BID chairman Nigel Way, in a Radio Dart interview, said ‘everyone has a role to play in securing a brighter future for the town’.

But he added: ‘Too many tourists is not the answer for Dartmouth, nor is tourism the answer for Dartmouth, it’s making it a nice place to live.’

He continued: ‘I am doing this BID for five years and something epic is going to have to happen for me to give up.’

December: Businessman Dave Cawley, then a town councillor, told a town council meeting he had no intention of paying the levy, which he dubbed a ‘tourist tax’.

2015

January: South Hams Council issued final demand notices to those businesses which had not yet paid the BID levy.

January: A war of words erupted between Dave Cawley and Nigel Way over Mr Cawley’s ambition to get a seat on the BID board.

February 9: On behalf of the BID, South Hams Council issued 103 court summonses to businesses that had not paid their BID levy. Mr Cawley said he had now paid his levy.

February: BID manager Francesca Johnson launched a crowdfunding appeal to replace a flag pole damaged during a gale – only to withdraw it after several days when she was told it was insured by the town council.

February: It was announced that a Keep it Local loyalty card scheme would be launched by the BID in April.

February: Mayor Rob Lyons issued a rallying call for businesses to ‘get behind the BID’.

February: The BID claimed credit for ‘luring’ the BBC’s Big Painting Challenge programme to film in the town.

February 27: Plymouth magistrates issued 25 BID levy liability orders; four applications for orders were adjourned.

March: Dartmouth district and county councillor Jonathan Hawkins told a town council meeting: ‘I have had first hand experience of the BID in Torbay for the last five years, which has been a complete and utter disaster. But the Dartmouth BID is totally different with everybody doing all they can to understand the issues and concerns that some people have in the town.

‘They are trying their best and spending a huge amount of time and effort trying to sort out these problems. We are where we are and have to move forward.

‘From my experience, BIDs don’t work. But I think the Dartmouth BID will because you have people who really care.’

At the same meeting, BID chairman Nigel Way made a plea for everyone to work together and he added ‘in the last six to eight months the BID had seen an incredible amount of success’.

March: Former BID chairman and then Business Forum chairman-elect Paul Reach claimed the current board of BID directors had failed to rectify the levy error and businesses must be given a re-run of the vote.

March: Sixteen people applied for seats on the BID board, to be decided by votes at the BID agm.

March: South Hams Council sent out eight more summonses for non-payment of the BID levy.

March: Alison Steere was appointed BID manager to replace Ms Johnson who was looking to regain her seat on the BID board.

March: Eight board members were elected at the first BID annual general meeting.

Royal Castle hotelier Nigel Way was re-elected and carried on as chairman. Jo Moon, of Dartmouth Self Storage; Peter Conisbee, of the Flavel; Paul Downing, of the Dart Marina Hotel; Kate Ryder, of Cafe Alf Resco, and Dee Nutt, of Dartmouth Caring, were also re-elected. Two new board members, Caroline Drew, of Plugprints, and Mark Simpson, of By the Dart, also took seats on the new board.

Not elected were Angie Cairns-Sharpe, of Valley House bed and breakfast; Francesca Johnson, of Reddevelop; Roger Chilcott, of Dartmouth Town Council; Paul Reach, of TQ6 Marketing; Edward Reach, of D’Art Gallery; and Paul Duckett, of Cloudberry Digital. Louise Blackburn, of The Crafted Emporium, and Phil Hayward, of Blueriver Cottages, withdrew from the contest prior to the meeting.

April: Baliffs called on businesses to collect unpaid BID levies after magistrates granted liability orders in February.

April: The BID announced it would hold an open meeting for business owners to air their views.

April: Norton Park chalet owner Colin Payne challenged his BID levy at Plymouth Magistrates Court. The hearing was adjourned.

April: The BID announced it would bring in hawks to scare away seagulls, which many regarded as a pest.

April: BID directors received an unexpected round of applause at the end of an open meeting in the Guildhall after they hit back at criticism.

‘The spontaneous show of support may signal a change of fortune for the beleaguered BID which has suffered a series of mishaps since its inception some 12 months ago,’ wrote Chronicle reporter Karen Perrow.

May: Hawks arrived in town to scare away seagulls.

May: Businessman Gordon Anderson claimed firms were being forced out of Dartmouth by the BID levy.

May 29: Businessman Colin Payne was ordered to pay his BID levy by Plymouth magistrates.

June: The BID announced it had bought two water bowsers for Dartmouth Green Partnerships.

June: Two months later than planned, the BID Keep it Local loyalty card scheme was launched.

June: Businessman Gordon Anderson petitioned for an extraordinary general meeting of the BID in a bid to change its rules, its boundaries and its levy charges.

June: Paul Reach, the new chairman of Dartmouth Business Forum, organised a survey of businesses, asking for their views on the BID.

This survey can be viewed here  :  

June: MP Sarah Wollaston said there was nothing more she could do to assist those opposing to the BID, after she was asked to raise their concerns with the relevant minister.

July: The BID led calls for an ‘ugly black box’ on the town’s embankment to be tidied up – and asked for ideas.

July: BID chairman Nigel Way apologised over posters he put in the town ahead of May’s council elections, calling on people not to vote for Dave Cawley. Mr Cawley lost his seat on the town council.

July: The BID joined forces with Dartmouth Caring and Torbay and South Devon Health and Care NHS Trust to produce a promotional video aimed at recruiting staff to reopen the minor injuries unit at the town’s hospital.

July: The BID rejected Gordon Anderson’s petition for an extraordinary general meeting.

July: The BID ‘must focus on promises outlined in its five-year business plan if it is to have a successful future’, it was claimed after the Business Forum received responses to its survey. Chairman Paul Reach said it appeared businesses were ‘not really happy’ with the way the BID was moving forward… but he thought there was ‘just’ support for the BID idea, though less support for the progress it had made.

August: A press release issued by the BID and the TIC, claiming a Dartmouth hotel had won a prestigious award, was found to be misleading and inaccurate.

August 10: BID director Paul Downing resigned.

August: South Hams Council told MP Sarah Wollaston, who had been lobbied by businessman Gordon Anderson, that it was not its job to oversee the day-to-day operation of the BID.

August: The BID, in conjunction with Dartmouth Medical Practice and Torbay and South Devon Health and Care NHS Trust, produced a leaflet containing health advice for visitors.

August: Ten more businesses were issued with summonses over unpaid BID levies.

August: A new visitor map, showing the town’s ‘hidden tourist attractions’, was produced by the BID and town council.

September: Norton Park chalet owner Jim Tregaskis wrote to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, asking for further investigation into the legalities of how the BID was set up, how the ballot was conducted, its promised levy charges and business plan.

September: The BID sought views on possible new and improved signage for the town.

September: Nigel Way resigned his position of BID chairman. He was replaced by Peter Conisbee.

September: Alison Steere resigned as BID manager.

September: The BID announced it would be giving its Keep it Local loyalty card scheme an extra push in the autumn after it got off to a slow start.

September: The ‘ugly black box’ on the embankment was given a makeover by artist Paul Barclay.

September: Torbay and South Devon Health and Care NHS Trust announced it had recruited two staff members for Dartmouth hospitals minor injuries unit, following a recruitment drive backed by the BID. The trust said they would be in place ‘after Christmas’.

October: Chairman Peter Conisbee said the BID would not be looking to replace manager Alison Steere – at least for the time being.

October: A three-month Dartmouth digital marketing campaign was launched by the BID.

October: The?BID won a Great British High Street ‘Rising Star’ award from the Government. A £1,000 prize was awarded for the Dartmouth Every Time marketing campaign and social media presence.

November: A meeting of BID levy payers was introduced to 20/20, a design company, with ideas on how to improve signage in the town.

BID director Caroline Drew said the board was investigating signage options that would ‘enhance visitor routes around the town that were tailored to Dartmouth’s character’.

November: BID handed over a cheque for £2,000 to the Dartmouth Mayflower 400 organising committee.

November: Fisherman Carl Griffiths said he was prepared to go to prison rather than pay his BID levy, although it is understood he did later pay it.

December 16: BID director Caroline Drew resigned.

December: Footfall cameras, installed by the BID, showed numbers were down on the previous year.

December: 10 more businesses were issued with liability orders by magistrates in Plymouth for non-payment of the BID levy.

December: Following the closure of Eltek in Townstal, with the loss of 28 jobs, Business Forum chairman Paul Reach said: ‘It shows how doubly important it is for the BID to start marketing Dart­mouth as a business location.’

2016

January: The BID was involved in talks aimed at trying to solve the tourist information centre’s cash crisis. The TIC was offered a £10,000 loan by the BID but turned it down.

January: The BID said it would be looking for up six additional directors at its AGM to be held in March.

January: Dartmouth Green Partnerships thanked the BID for providing it with a new display board.

February: Footfall figures for the past year showed erratic rises, mainly due to festivals and the regatta, and falls.

February: The BID announced the date for its annual general meeting – Thursday, March 17.

February: The BID said it was trying to forge closer links with the town’s festivals and regatta.

March: A survey of BID levy payers asked whether they wanted the BID to carry on with its programme of flying hawks to scare away seagulls.

March 7: BID director Kate Ryder resigned.

March 17: Chairman Peter Conisbee announced that the directors had unanimously agreed to wind up the BID ‘due to a lack of support’ and an extraordinary general meeting would be held in April to agree the decision with levy payers.

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