By Mike Ribbeck, Business Editor / email@example.com
BUSINESSES in Bristol face new taxes to help meet a £42 million shortfall in the controversial bendy bus scheme, the Evening Post can reveal.
Councillors will impose either a levy which would see firms charged £1 per day for every car parking space they provide for staff or an increase in business rates.
If the council goes down the route of a parking levy it would affect 300 business in the city centre but would be more expensive to operate and police.
A study found that the levy would cost £500,000 a year to operate and would raise around £3.5 million a year. If the levy was introduced businesses affected would have to decide whether to pass the cost down to their employees.
If the council chooses to increase business rates it would only affect premises valued at over £50,000.
Just under 2,000 firms across Bristol would have to pay the supplement which would raise an estimated £3.76 million per year.
Transport chiefs at the city council have settled on the two options after weeks of discussions on how best to fund the £200 million bendy bus scheme.
The plan is to build three routes: the £50 million Ashton Vale-to-Temple Meads station; the £102 million north fringe-to-Hengrove package, and the £45 million south Bristol link.
The council has been looking at a range of options to raise the money needed, including selling off property and raising the council tax but has now whittled the list to just two.
The bulk of the cash for the scheme will come from a £120 million Government grant which the council has put in a bid for. The authority will find out if the bid has been successful in December but still has to convince the Government that it has a financially sound scheme.
If the council decides to press ahead with the parking levy Bristol will be only the second city in the country to have the controversial tax.
A series of meetings have been held with business leaders to gauge opinion and a steering group is being set up. Businesses have raised doubts about having to bear the financial burden for the project. According to the council, congestion costs the city £300 million a year and for Bristol’s economy to recover from the recession the problem needs to be addressed.
Tim Kent, the council’s transport boss, said: “Broadly speaking there is universal support within the business community for the rapid transport system but there is some reticence about business being asked to pay and we acknowledge that.
“But the benefits will be enormous. Businesses do not want to come to a city that does not have a modern and efficient transport system. We need to do this to encourage growth in the economy.”
There have been claims that a parking levy could drive firms into the suburbs and create a ghost town in the city centre. The timing has also been criticised with the economy in the grip of recession.
Mr Kent said: “We won’t be asking businesses to pay an extra penny until 2015 – to put an extra cost on business at this time wouldn’t be a good idea. We’ve been going through our own books and have raised an extra £5 million towards the project. But this isn’t an enormous amount of money when compared to other costs of running a business.”
He added: “There’s no preferred option – both have their advantages and disadvantages and we’re going into this with an open mind. The important thing as far as we’re concerned is that we have a business plan that works.”
GWE Business West, Bristol’s biggest business organisation, has made clear its opposition to a parking levy. Director Nigel Hutchings said: “We’re wholeheartedly behind anything that improves transport in the city but we believe other ways of finding the funding should be explored. If the council went down the route of the parking levy then we’d have to ask questions.”
Tom McCarthy, chair of the Bristol branch of the Institute of Directors, added: “The Institute recognises something has to be done to improve the current transport infrastructure in the city and that additional revenues need to be raised to meet the shortfall in funding for the Rapid Transport System.
“However, we feel that any levy raised should not be restricted to the business community, rather it should be targeted at all stakeholders in the city, of which business is one.”
“We feel that the initial proposal of the parking levy placed too much of the burden on the business community. We would therefore welcome continued consultation on what is undoubtedly a very significant decision for the City Council.”