Business Improvement District plans backed for Tunbridge Wells

Organiser Ingrid Pope [pictured] launched Tunbridge Wells Yard Sale last year after seeing a similar event in the US.

BOROUGH council leaders and businesses have thrown their weight behind plans to create a Business Improvement District [BID] in Tunbridge Wells although there are some dissenting voices.

Royal Tunbridge Wells Together is encouraging businesses to back the scheme – which would see firms pay a levy towards funding initiatives and events.

Manager Karen Pengelly said BID has been a success for hundreds of towns where it has been voted through and could be ‘incredibly positive’ in Tunbridge Wells. Other towns and cities have chosen to invest in events, such as food festivals, and maintenance.

The autumn, firms in a set town centre area will vote on finalised proposals, which will state what the BID will seek to achieve.

The four areas of focus for Tunbridge Wells are: Parking, promoting businesses, staging events and making Tunbridge Wells a ‘great place to work’.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is not in charge of the process, but would have two seats on the board of the management committee – which would be led by RTW Together.

Last week the authority’s communities cabinet advisory board voted to support work being undertaken to create a BID. The Cabinet are expected to rubber stamp the move in a meeting on September 13.

Cllr Tracy Moore, speaking in support to the committee, said: “The changing high street has been well documented with people increasingly looking for experiences.

“I think this was reflected in businesses priorities put forward in the initial BID survey as events and promotion were said to be important to them.

“There are more than 300 BIDs in the UK, including two in Kent [Maidstone and Canterbury], and we are competing with these towns for business and footfall.

“The BID can deliver projects in addition to those currently running and I would encourage you to support this.” 

The council owns 16 properties that would be eligible for levy. It was not disclosed at the meeting how much the authority could pay.


The full business plan will be launched in September. It is proposed the BID ballot will run from October 15 until November 9. The BID would run for five years from April 1 next year, after which another ballot would be needed to continue it.

The ballot must be won on two counts; both a majority of the number of votes and a majority of the rateable values by those that vote.

Ahead of this, the Times consulted a number of firms and found the majority were in support.

Gilbert Green, Managing Partner of law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore, said: “Tunbridge Wells is already a great town in which to live and work but having a BID will give it a competitive advantage over other towns and help make it a centre of choice for people to live, work, shop and for recreation.”

Andre De Zijl, Director of Tunbridge Wells Metro Bank, added: “We believe in supporting local business and we are therefore delighted to back the Tunbridge Wells BID and look forward to it making a positive contribution to businesses throughout the area.”

Marc Hooper, Store Manager at Marks & Spencer in Tunbridge Wells, also backed the BID, which he described as ‘great news’.

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s added: “We support BIDs in a number of towns across the country and welcome new proposals. We carefully assess each one and take a number of factors into consideration before making a decision.”  

If implemented, around 700 companies throughout the town centre, Mount Ephraim and The Pantiles will pay a levy of 1.25 per cent on their current business rates into a collective pool. It has not been announced if charity shops would be included.

Businesses will have a say over how the money is spent and the BID itself will be structured as an independent private company, although some chose to co-operate more closely with the local authority.


Critics of BID have labelled it a ‘Band-Aid’ solution to the much greater problems facing business owners.

Matthew Sankey owns three premises in the town trading under the name of Sankey, all of which are likely to be covered by the BID. He said: “On paper I can see how attractive this bid look and on the whole I support it.

“However, our business rates continue to rise, especially in the licenced trade. Pubs and restaurants seem to pay way above the odds here, and that is not even taking into account those pubs being masked as cafes on the rates system. It is just not a fair playing field.

“I am all for Tunbridge Wells being able to keep more of its rates, but I am not sure an additional levy is the way forward. What we need is a wholesale review of the rates system.

“This just seems to be a Band-Aid for a far larger problem that in my view requires full surgery.” 

Gary Jefferies of Tunbridge Wells-based Panoramic Wealth said: “We have a magnitude of empty shops and sky high office rents only due to their scarcity value.

“If people are charged extra fees on top they may well move away to cheaper areas and if that happened we would be left with a ghost town.

“I don’t think a small levy based on cultural events will be well received as it will not assist footfall and encourage visitors to the town events.”

To find out more about the consultation, visit

Share this article

Recommended articles


Please enter a search term below.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter