Key destinations in the centre of Newcastle will be given a new lease of life if a business improvement group is given a fresh mandate in a vote which starts today.
Business owners are being balloted on whether to continue funding NE1, which has launched a range of projects in the last five years.
The ongoing £20m project to upgrade the Central Station heads NE1’s list of achievements. It has also boosted evening shopping with its Alive After Five scheme, launched a marina and even set up a beach on the Quayside.
Its programme for the next five years includes overhauls for three city centre locations - The Gate, Percy Street and the Bigg Market - in a bid to complete Newcastle’s transformation into a top-class European destination.
All three would be given major makeovers to make them more accessible for pedestrians and more attractive to visitors.
Given a positive ballot result when the poll closes in four weeks, the organisation also promises to extend Alive After Five with proposals for free parking until 2019.
Their street rangers, Central Station upgrade project and maintenance of the new City Marina would also continue.
Chief executive Sean Bullick said: “We are confident that business owners will vote for it. We have worked closely with members over the last year putting together new proposals for the community so we get the sense that what we are proposing is what they want.
“We’ve had many achievements over the past five years. Alive After Five has had a significant commercial and small cultural effect on the city and the Central Station project is £20m worth of investment that wouldn’t have come into the city otherwise.”
The renewal bid has already been backed by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership as well as major city centre businesses, including city centre property owners the Malhotra Group and Ladhar Leisure, as well as high street shops Primark, John Lewis and the Live Theatre.
However there are fears from some members hit by Newcastle City Council’s late night levy that they cannot simultaneously afford the NE1 charge.
Mr Bullick added: “I wouldn’t want to make any predictions on the vote but as far as possible we want to come away with a sense of mandate and hope that as many businesses as possible will vote for us.”
NE1 was established in 2009 as a private enterprise and at the time was the largest business district improvement company in the country.
Of the 1,395 votes available to the organisation 67% were in favour and businesses have paid 1% of their rateable value to NE1 every year with £2m generated for the company annually.
Mr Bullick said if the scheme is granted another five years he would keep the same five-strong team to run it with no pay rises for the immediate future.
Elaine Sinclair, of the High Bridge Street Tenants Association in Newcastle, said: “NE1 has been amazing and given us so much help when we’ve needed it. Their team come in and clean up after events we’ve had and the Quayside beach was great. They give smaller businesses a voice and I hope people realise when they are voting how much work they do behind the scenes.”
Michelle Percy, director at Silverlink Holdings Ltd involved in the redevelopment of the Stephenson Quarter near Central Station, said: “Over the last five years a lot has been achieved in the city centre, most of which we take for granted. Free car-parking after 5pm, Newcastle Fashion Week - without NE1 these things would simply stop overnight.”
With Newcastle City Council’s late night levy on pubs that open after midnight now in force one pub owner believes funding NE1 becomes an extra financial burden.
Tony Brookes, who runs the Head of Steam on Neville Street, said: “I have voted against it as I don’t see an awful lot’s been got out of it for the money.
“I pay £840 a year towards it and have just been hit with £1,259 for the late night levy. In 2009 I voted for it because there was still a feeling of optimism.”
The postal ballot lasts for 28 days with responses due by 5pm on October 24.