AMERICAN-style Business Improvement Districts - or BIDs - could soon come to York, it was disclosed today.

The possibility of businesses going into partnership with City of York Council to revitalise their area - which would mean them paying a levy beyond their normal business tax - will be studied.

It would mean that if a majority of traders and businesses agreed, they would hand over extra cash on their business rates to get the city council to administer "added extra" facilities.

These could include tree planting, street furniture, better signs, speedier response to graffiti and litter, improved transport and access, better marketing, and tighter security, such as the installation of CCTV cameras.

A glamorous example of what can be done using a self-imposed levy can be seen in New York's revamped Time Square.

The issue of whether BIDs might come to York was raised by Diana Golding, manager of the Coppergate Centre, at a debate between York's Labour MP, Hugh Bayley, and Anne McIntosh, Tory MP for the Vale of York, organised by the York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

But the question stumped both MPs, who each confessed to their audience in the Dante Suite at York Racecourse that they had not heard of the scheme. Afterwards Tony Bennett, assistant director for economic development at City of York Council, said that the issue of BIDs would be discussed by the new City Centre Partnership and by the First Stop York partners.

"It is all about businesses and the council coming together and coming up with a business plan which the local authority would help to co-ordinate," he said.

Already there are 22 pilot schemes in England and Wales, which are being guided through the process of setting up BIDs.

They have to evolve plans which give added value, and identify who is involved and who will pay. There also has to be an assurance that existing services offered by local authorities will not decrease as a result. The new law is designed for businesses which occupy premises, and not property owners.

The U.S. city of San Diego started the scheme in 1970 with the creation of the Downtown Improvement Area. Since then, 18 separate districts have been created, involving more than 11,000 businesses raising more than one million dollars per year.

Updated: 10:38 Tuesday, October 21, 2003