DINGWALL is a step closer to joining the rash of business improvement districts across Britain.
It has appointed a project manager to steer the process.
A poll of traders will follow in the coming months to establish if the town’s businesses want to pay a levy towards improvements aimed at boosting custom and, ultimately, the local economy.
George Murray, a member of the Dingwall Business Association, will head the initiative with the distinct aim of regenerating the town centre in the face of increasing competition from online retailers and rivalry from stores in nearby Inverness.
The mission has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the daunting prospect of car parking charges being introduced in Dingwall – as in other Highland towns – as a budget measure by cash-strapped Highland Council.
About 130 people attended a public meeting in Dingwall last week, universally opposing the proposal on the basis that it would destroy a fragile economy.
Mr Murray, who is currently drafting a Bid questionnaire to be distributed to all local businesses, said: "Car parking charges will work in certain towns.
"My problem with Highland Council is that I think they’ve been short-sighted in that they’re forgetting Dingwall is a market town.
"We attract custom from as far as the west coast, the north and the south. If those people are penalised with car parking charges some I’ve spoken to from the west coast will simply opt to go through to Inverness, where parking can be free."
The local team has secured Scottish Government grant funding to assist with a 12 to 14-month consultation exercise to outline broad business targets and to help establish if traders back a Bid scheme.
Mr Murray cited examples of "better security for the town, a better cleaning structure and promotional events" to attract more people to the town and increase its footfall.
The traders’ levy is expected to be between one percent and three percent of annual turnover.
Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Margaret Paterson is supportive.
"It’s tremendous," she said. "I think it is going to be fantastic for the town and you couldn’t ask for better people to steer it."
She considers the prospect of parking charges "a disastrous idea".
She added: "It’s not too late. They haven’t consulted on the charges issue yet. I have spoken to the leader (Margaret Davidson) and there will be consultation.
"And it’s got to be viable. They council would not raise the revenue it thinks it would, so what’s the point of putting people through this?"
Charges were included as part of a budget package agreed by councillors.