Storm brews as Bid faces legal challenge

A FURIOUS publican has launched a legal action against the organisers of a “business improvement district” after Edinburgh City Council issued summary warrants demanding more than 100 merchants pay outstanding subscriptions on behalf of the organisation.

Staff member Hannah Cooper at the Bow Bar. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

Charles Gibbon, owner of the Bow Bar, has instructed Edinburgh law firm Anderson Strathearn to detail alleged concerns over “material irregularities” in the voting process which led to the formation of the Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District (Bid) in February.

Gibbon, who also owns the Cloisters Bar and the Stockbridge Tap through his company, Edinburgh Real Ale, claims that he did not receive ballot papers in November. His legal team has demanded that the Bid should not enforce collection of outstanding levies by sheriffs “until the matter has been fully investigated”.

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He joins fellow Grassmarket campaigners that have also claimed irregularities in the ballot process and have petitioned Scottish Government ministers to scrap the results of the vote.

Gibbon, who is a lawyer, said: “We were never consulted and we certainly never received any ballot papers.”

Last month, Edinburgh council issued summary warrants to 102 owners on behalf of the Greater Grassmarket Bid who have so far refused to pay the mandatory levy, representing around half of eligible voters. The abstainers, many small retailers, are thought to owe the Bid levies worth more than £70,000.

A spokeswoman for the City of Edinburgh Council said: “We act as a billing agent on behalf of the Grassmarket Bid. In the interest of fairness to those who have paid the levy, we are continuing to ensure the Bid is able to deliver its business plan.

“Non payment is still being pursued on behalf of the Bid company.”

The intervention comes as at least two other groups of merchants and small traders in Largs and Lochaber have banded to fight the establishment of Bids in their areas.

Victoria Sutherland, owner of Glencoe Cottages, has launched a “community page” on Facebook ahead of setting up a petition to present to the Scottish Parliament. She said that the “Living Lochaber” Bid proposal stretches over 26,000 square miles taking in Fort William, Mallaig and much of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. It is the only such plan in Scotland that extends outside a singe town or city centre.

The Lochaber Bid group has said that 1,000 businesses are eligible to participate in the vote, as they have a rateable value of more than £2,000. The group, which has received funding of £40,000 from Highland Council to launch the scheme, expects to see ballot papers posted out to eligible businesses on 31 October 2013.

It is estimated the Bid, if successful, will raise £1.8 million from businesses over five years.

Campaigners in Largs recently lost an appeal to the Scottish Government to overturn a Bid vote there.

Under legislation in Scotland, a Bid vote succeed if just over half of voters agree based on just a minimum 25 per cent voter turnout.