ONE of Winchester’s top business leaders has expressed concern about struggling independent businesses.

Executive director of Winchester Business Improvement District Catherine Turness told city councillors that she was worried about the impact of business rates across the district.

Ms Turness gave a presentation to the Town Forum on the BID’s draft business plan for 2018 to 2023, in which she talked about ensuring future business success, as well as the achievements of the BID since it began.

The BID is going for a second renewal ballot and has circulated a consultation document to local businesses to get feedback in the lead up to a vote in September.

The organisation began in the city in 2007 and businesses voted to renew the organisation in 2012.

Cllr Dominic Hiscock asked Ms Turness what the best and worst things were about trading in Winchester.

Ms Turness replied: “I would say the best thing about Winchester is that unique collectiveness. When things need to get done they get done together.

“In terms of the bad, there have been developments which have had setbacks which has made businesses say Winchester isn’t open for business in their feedback.

“I hope that the movement is quick because we will lose some more businesses in the meantime. I am specifically concerned about our independent businesses. The one thing that people are particularly struggling with is business rates.

“If they do not get the help they say, they won’t be there next year.”

Cllr Lucille Thompson asked Ms Turness what the BID would do to encourage shops to move in, given the number of major retailers moving out of the city.

Ms Turness said: “It is always a worry when we see a new vacancy, but our vacancy rate is one of the lowest in the country. Most of the units that we see have activity but it takes a long time to get going.”

Addressing the issue of ensuring a mix of businesses, Ms Turness continued: “The city council have the power to be able to steer things in the right way. High streets are changing and they are not going to be all retail anymore.

“Central Winchester is the key to getting things done. Having some units where national retailers can have the choice of rent and rates is key.

“Until more units become available to drive rent down, you can’t get independent shops on the high street who can afford to be there.”

Cllr Ian Tait told the meeting: “There is an unacceptable situation with rubbish on our high street which is just appalling- I hope that if BID wins the term that you will be robust with this.

"We need to up our game and the BID needs to be a key player in doing that.”

The BID’s draft plan featured four main sections: Positioning and Promoting Winchester, Managing and Enhancing the Cityscape, Influencing and Inspiring Change and Supporting Business Growth.

Among the BID’s hopes for the future of the district were to create a youthful, creative city for young people, an employee wellbeing scheme, a free or subsidised marketing training scheme and a greater focus on technology opportunities.