AN UNPOPULAR scheme to improve trade in Abingdon town centre will make it ‘more difficult’ for any new projects to be successful.

That is the view of business owners who led a campaign to rid the town of the Abingdon Business Improvement District (BID), which collected a compulsory yearly 1.5 per cent levy from town centre traders.

Though it was officially dissolved as a company in February after more than a year of controversy refunds are still in the process of being returned by Vale of White Horse District.

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Ian Collett, who owns The Bookstore on Bury Street, said: “While it didn't make things worse it didn't make things better either.

"The problem is you need people who understand the town and have fresh ideas. Footfall isn't something you can just snap your fingers and solve."

He added: "I think it is going to make things more difficult for something similar in the future and there is going to be a degree of trepidation."

Another business owner behind the call to end the scheme early, who did not want to be named, said most traders were ‘glad to see the back’ of BID and agreed there would be suspicion of any attempts to work collectively that looked like ‘BID under another name’.

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In March last year, the company in charge of running Abingdon BID terminated its contract.

At the same time, interim BID advisory board chairman Mel Inness called for a financial review of the scheme by Vale of White Horse District Council.

Though this found no evidence of wrong-doing, it fuelled growing support to end the BID two years early.

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A petition was handed in to Vale of White Horse District Council by more than 100 local businesses calling for the scheme to be scrapped. It was a turnaround from 2015 when 58 per cent of 148 businesses had voted in favour of the scheme, expected to collect £800,000 over five years.

A spokesperson for the Vale said: “As the Abingdon BID billing authority, we’ve let the levy payers know that we will be refunding the 2018-19 payments in full."

They added a letter had now been sent to the levy payers with a refund form.

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The new leader of Abingdon Town Council Samantha Bowring said it was ‘disappointing’ what had happened with the BID.

She explained: “We will obviously be looking at business and retail and having Abingdon BID to work with would have been an ideal partner. It is such a shame what happened as we will be back to working with individual businesses without that overarching scheme.”

She said the council , which in the May local elections saw an almost complete shift to the Lib Dems, would in the next few weeks be putting together a complete set of strategies, including for encouraging town centre trade.