AN ORGANISATION to promote businesses in Basingstoke is set to be wound up next month after owners voted against its renewal.

Basingstoke Together, which is funded by the businesses in the town centre, was seeking a second five-year term after first being set up in November 2015.

However, in a vote of business rates payers held last month, it was decided that the organisation should not be renewed.

It means that the services that the Business Improvement District (BID) provides, which include promotion of its shops and representation on the council and other authorities, will cease to exist from next month.

The town rangers, which were introduced in 2019, will also stop their patrols on March 27.

The ballot, which was conducted by CIVICA on behalf of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council between January 8 and February 4, saw 52 of the 94 votes cast in favour of renewal.

But each vote carries a different weight based on the business's rateable value.

It meant there was a 52-48% majority in favour of scrapping the scheme.

Basingstoke Together worked closely with the council to enable the town to be made safe when shops were able to reopen after the first lockdown in July.

It is led by Jane Stewart, former marketing manager at Festival Place, who took over the role in 2019.

Basingstoke Together say that the results showed that "over 55 per cent of town centre businesses voted for the BID to continue supporting businesses in the town", but "the rateable value of the votes cast in favour was not sufficient".

Neil Churchill, chair of Basingstoke Together, said: "The Board of Directors would like to thank all those businesses that voted in the re-ballot.

"Unfortunately, the ballot was conducted under extremely difficult conditions in a tier 5 lockdown.

"The result is disappointing and because of the circumstances under which the ballot was held, the Directors of Basingstoke Together are seeking clarity from British BIDs on possible next steps."

'I feel for the team'

Reacting to the news, council leader Ken Rhatigan, who had supported the BID, told The Gazette: "That is how democracy works, that people have to judge whether it was of value to them or not.

"I feel for the team at the BID who have put their life and soul into maintaining the wellbeing of our district and the retailers through very tough and challenging times.

"But the reality is that people are scared and for their own businesses are probably hunkering down and thinking about what they can do for themselves.

"I pledge that the council will pick up the slack and engage with businesses both within the town centre and wider to make sure that the offering within Basingstoke will encourage people to come back."

Talking about his decision to back the scheme, Cllr Rhatigan continued: "We have done everything that we could do to support that. It was a cabinet decision and we were happy to do so.

"My economic team are discussing the handover with the BID."

The council's ruling Conservative administration had pledged its support to Basingstoke Together at a cabinet meeting in December.

And as recently as November, the authority's cabinet member for borough development and improvement, Cllr Rebecca Bean, was appointed to the board.

Town rangers 'main reason for voting yes'

Meanwhile, town centre business owner Alan Stone, who is a director of Basingstoke Together, told The Gazette he was disappointed with the decision.

Speaking specifically about the fact that the town centre rangers, which patrol the area to discourage anti-social behaviour among other things, he said: "They were very useful indeed. They kept anti-social behaviour down and I hope the council will step up [to continue it].

"I can entirely understand anyone with big rateable values [voting against]. Hopefully we will resume the BID and do something else next year."

Mr Stone, who recently launched a new political party due to stand at this Spring's elections, the Hampshire Independents, continued: "We are looking at having a lot more anti-social behaviour back to the levels it was at before.

"The rangers really did turn it around and put a cap on it. They were in my opinion the main reason for voting yes."

Speaking to The Gazette in October, Ms Stewart said she was planning on expanding the town rangers scheme, after positive feedback from businesses.

With business rates already paid up until the end of March, the BID will continue to function until then.

Challenge possible?

British BIDs, an organisation set up to advise BIDs, says that once a BID fails to win a ballot for a second term, a winding-up process usually begins.

However, a BID can challenge the result if it feels that the ballot was carried out unfairly or incorrectly.

In a statement to The Gazette, Mr Churchill said that Basingstoke Together's directors are "seeking clarity from British BIDs on possible next steps".

The ballot was carried out during a national lockdown, with many shops in the town centre being forced to close at the time.