ANGRY traders in Darlington who objected to paying a town centre business levy have been ordered by a court to pay up.
The annual levy was introduced last July after a majority vote amongst businesses saw the town centre become a Business Improvement District (Bid) to help fund improvements to the town.
The contribution is the equivelant of 1.5 per cent of each individual property’s rateable value - but there were objections amongst traders who did not vote for it.
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An application was made by the Bid company, Distinct Darlington, to ask the court to grant 45 liability orders meaning those traders who had not yet paid their contribution must do so or face further court action.
The application was granted at Darlington Magistrates’ Court today (Wednesday, February 20), despite impassioned pleas from traders who said they could not afford the extra sum and had never wanted the Bid in the first place.
Dave Nicholls of The George pub in Bondgate told magistrates: “We’ve had to release 50 per cent of our staff, turnover has reduced, prices are going up and this is another slap in the face - another unfair penalty to be thrown at small businesses.”
The court heard that when 540 Bid ballot papers were sent out last March, 210 were returned with 130 in favour of the scheme.
Phil Brown, representing Bid, also clarified that in order for the vote to be classed as a majority, the combined rateable value of the properties included in the yes vote had to be more than that of those in the no vote.
The split was around £8m for yes and just under £5m for no.
Malcolm Royal of the It’s All About The Bag shop in Queen Street described the process as “a farce” and said he would appeal against being forced to pay the levy.
He said: “In all democratic societies throughout the world, and led by Great Britain, it is one person, one vote.
“Here we have the unfairness of the massive multinational companies having a more powerful vote than the small independent retailers – my vote is worth a fraction of what Marks and Spencers’ is worth and surely that can’t be right in this democratic world we live in.”
Presiding magistrate David Williams explained that if the Bid consultation and ballot process had been carried out to the legal requirements, then the court had no choice but to grant the liability order application.
The 45 recipients of the liability orders can appeal the decision or face further court action if they continue to not pay their bill.