Edinburgh Old Town traders still want a collective voice

Hopes of co-operation despite rejection of BID proposals

Monday, 13th January 2020, 6:00 am
The BID plan fell short of a majority in the ballot by just eight votes

TRADERS in the Old Town have vowed to look for new ways of working together after the rejection of proposals to create a Business Improvement District in the area.

The BID plan - which would have seen businesses in the historic heart of the Capital paying an annual levy to fund special projects and promotions - was narrowly defeated in a ballot before Christmas.

But James McGregor, who chaired Original Edinburgh, the group behind the proposals, said there was still a need for Old Town businesses to find a collective voice.

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He said the rejection of the BID plan means major changes in the city centre, including low emission zones, street closures and pedestrianisation schemes, would now take place without a proper input from the local business community.

Original Edinburgh has said: “We are committed to ensuring the needs of businesses are not forgotten, and that Old Town businesses who believe in the power of collaborative action can continue forward positively.”

The BID business plan included proposals for street ambassadors to welcome and direct visitors, extra street cleaning and information-sharing to combat shoplifting.

But in the ballot, support for the proposals fell eight votes short of a majority.

Mr McGregor said: “There was obviously a lack of engagement, The turnout was only 36 per cent - and that was after a few years of really trying to get folk’s attention and saying these are the things we really need to tackle.

“But people are understandably very focused on their business and day-to-day management and it’s very time-consuming.

“A lot of people assume everyone in the Old Town is making a fortune out of tourism - it’s not the case, there are a lot of people having to work extremely hard to make a living, so getting them to put their hands in their pocket is a very big step for them to take.

“The argument was not compelling enough for them to make that commitment.”

A survey of Old Town traders is now under way to find out why the BID plans were rejected.

The anonymous questionnaire asks them which way they voted, the primary reason for their decision, how they rated the business plan, what they liked and did not like about it and what business-led initiatives they would like to see in the future.

Mr McGregor is stepping aside. But he said: “There are folk on the steering group who have an appetite to take things forward.”

And he said there were other options to examine, including a more traditional business association.

Writing in today’s Evening News, he says: “I am proud that Original Edinburgh has started a meaningful conversation about the need for the constituent members, businesses, and residents of the Old Town to come together to shape its future.

“The support received in the ballot made it clear that many traders in the Old Town feel that something is needed. That need for business collaboration remains.”