OKEHAMPTON’S BID (business improvement district) initiative may yet come to pass as Okehampton Hamlets Parish Council agreed last Tuesday (September 5) to pay a percentage of the costs needed to push the BID initiative to the next stage.

Parish councillors agreed to pay 26 per cent of the costs needed to help set up a BID after opposing last month West Devon Borough Council’s initial suggestion that the borough council, Okehampton Town Council and the Hamlets each fund one-third of the total cost.

Hamlets councillors argued that one-third of the cost was too high a percentage of their overall precept - the parish council’s portion of council tax - and would force them to raise the precept, an unpopular move during a cost of living crisis.

Okehampton Hamlets chairman Brian Wood previously said that the council was “willing to pay our fair share.”

Other councillors have voiced their support of the BID and agreed to contribute towards the costs - something Okehampton Town Council raised concerns over in the last full council meeting.

Cllr Andy Ewen said that a BID would benefit the town centre, while Cllr John Heard argued that dropping out of the scheme now would be “a slap in the face for local businesses.”

Meanwhile Cllr Jan Goffey pointed out that it would be sensible to contribute towards the BID establishment since as the town and its economy continues to grow new businesses were likely to set up shop within Hamlets boundaries.

She said: “The thing we need to look at is cost to benefit ratio and look at the businesses which would benefit from the additional advertising from the BID. The Hamlets is really the only place new businesses can go.”

Under this new proposal, West Devon would still contribute one-third of the money but the remaining 66 per cent of cost would be split 74/26 between the two Okehampton councils, which is equal to the ratio of the town’s total number of rateable businesses in each parish.

A BID is a defined geographical area in a town’s business district which, through an additional levy, can be used to fund improvements in the area.

It is funded by business ratepayers as opposed to the property owners though many BIDs choose to involve property owners in their discussions.

Businesses in the proposed area are able to cast a vote on whether or not to create a BID which lasts for a term of five years, after which the agreement can be reviewed and voted on again.

A previous attempt to set up a BID in Okehampton in 2013 failed for numerous reasons, including the presence of a Chamber of Trade which was shut down several years ago and opposition from a number of small businesses worried about the costs of keeping a BID running.

However, councillors have now decided to revisit the idea arguing economic climate had changed following Covid and the cost-of-living crisis.

Today there are over 300 BIDs in the UK.