COMPANIES in a Taunton street are protesting over ‘out-of-the-blue’ proposals to charge them thousands of pounds for an initiative they claim will actually damage their business.

But organisers of the Business Improvement District (BID) scheme say they have carried out extensive consultations and it would benefit all firms by increasing trade and cutting costs.

Taunton town centre businesses have until February 28 to return their ballot papers to decide whether another BID is introduced – they voted not to continue the previous five-year BID when it lapsed.

If successful, firms would pay a 1% levy on their business rates, which will be used to stage events and to market Taunton in an attempt to attract more visitors.

But Peter Allinson, of real estate law firm Davitt Jones Bould, calculates it would cost around £14,000 over five years for his four properties in The Crescent.

Dr Allinson said he only discovered the street was included in the BID this time – it was previously excluded during the previous BID - when the ballot papers arrived in the post.

He added: “The BID’s objectives are at odds with what we want to achieve.

“They want to increase footfall through the town centre, whereas we want the car parks to be empty so our visitors can get in – people coming to us for meetings are finding it hard enough to get a parking space as it is, so it’ll be even harder if there are more people parking in town.

“I have no beef with BID, but I’m not in retail and to find a few weeks before the vote that The Crescent has been included was a total surprise.

“I’m trying to create jobs and employment. I don’t need somebody saying, ‘You’ve got a vote and we’re going to sting you for lots of tax’.”

Mike Watson, of Setsquare construction recruitment, said he faces a bill of £3,500 over five years if BID goes through – at a time when he has been forced to make redundancies and is not taking a salary himself due to tough economic conditions.

“Nobody in The Crescent has been invited to consultation meetings and we’ve received no information – we didn’t know we were included,” said Mr Watson.

“The whole market is down and margins are low – nobody’s making a profit and we can’t afford this extra expenditure. BID wouldn’t help my business in the slightest.”

Taunton Town Centre Manager Graham Love said Crescent businesses were contacted about BID – which will cost an average annual levy of £520 - and there has been wide consultation via post, e-mail, personal visits, meetings and in the County Gazette.

Mr Love said the levy would be “fair and equitable”, with larger premises paying proportionately more He added: “All prospective levy payers, including those in The Crescent, have been contacted by telephone to canvas opinion and answer any questions pertaining to the BID.

“The proposals are set to benefit all businesses, not just by increasing the opportunity for trade but also in reducing the cost of operating in Taunton including group buying of services like waste management and reducing the cost of utilities.

“The BID will provide all levy payers with a voice, making representation on local issues important to the vibrancy and vitality of the county town.”