Mary Portas High Street plans get government go ahead
- 30 March 2012
- From the section Business
The government has announced it has accepted "virtually all" 28 recommendations from Mary Portas in its bid to rejuvenate UK High Streets.
These will include creating dedicated "town teams" to manage High Streets and making parking more affordable.
It has also unveiled additional measures, including funding schemes and cutting back on red tape.
Last year, the government asked Ms Portas to compile a report on how best to revive the High Street.
The weak economy and rise of online shopping has hit some retailers hard.
On the back of Ms Portas' recommendations, the government has drawn up plans to launch:
- a High Street innovation fund with £10m of taxpayer money focused on bringing empty shops back to life
- a National Markets' Day to incentivise entrepreneurs to try out new ideas and encourage visitors to town centres
- a £1m Future High Street fund to be awarded to towns that deliver the most effective rejuvenation schemes in a year's time
- a further £500,000 fund to help towns access loans
The Minister of State for Communities and Local Government, Grant Shapps, said: "I'm accepting virtually all of the recommendations from Mary Portas's review, but I'm also going one step further, with a range of measures designed to help local people turn their High Streets into the beating hearts of their communities once again."
He said he wants to see the town teams, to be made up of council members, local landlords, business owners and MPs, drive change in retail, entertainment and leisure, as well as in housing and public services.
He also committed to change planning rules on flat conversions above shops, and consult on abolishing centrally-set parking charges.
But he did not endorse the proposal to insist on an "exceptional sign-off" by the government for all new out-of-town developments.
A spokesperson from Mr Shapps' department said this was because local authorities were already required to refer out-of-town building proposals above a certain size to the secretary of state.
Mary Portas said she would have liked to have seen yet more action taken.
"Naturally I would have liked greater central intervention in critical areas such as change of use, parking, business rates and the sign-off of new out-of-town developments and I will continue to fight for these," she said.
However, she said she was pleased to see the start of a fresh approach.
Ms Portas told the BBC why UK High Streets needed a makeover.
"Homogeny [in the 1990s] was when all the brands came over and all the massive retail chains rolled out across the country. And that did cause a problem but it still meant there were shops, it still meant there was footfall on the High Street," she said.
"Then what's happened, because of the growth of the internet, is all those massive chains have pulled the amount of shops that they need back."
She said the clock could not be turned back, but that there were plenty of ways to rejuvenate: "You're not going to have the same amount of shops on the small High Street. It's not going to happen. This isn't a nostalgia review that I've done here.
"But what you can do is you need to put some activity back on the High Street. Some of it will be independent small shops, some of it will be chains, some of it will be stuff we let go from our High Street.
"We should be looking at putting some of that activity back. Whether that's schools, whether that's gyms, whether that's creches, whether that's bingo halls, whether that's markets - that's the kind of thing we'll be looking at."
The measures have been welcomed by retail groups.
"The announcements are very welcome," said John Walker, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses.
"We called on the government to respond swiftly and positively in response to the Portas recommendations and that's what it has done."
He stressed the need for local councils to embrace the measures as part of "a sustained effort and focus on the longer-term solutions to get our High Streets back on their feet".
The British Property Federation (BPF) also welcomed the measures and stressed the need for local support.
"Government help on funding and policy is welcome, but ultimately if we want our High Streets to thrive, a clear, local-driven vision is required," said Liz Peace, chief executive of the BPF.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said there were "some positives" in the government's proposals, but it questioned whether the coalition had gone far enough.
"We were pleased with many of Mary Portas' findings, which set out a bold vision for the future of the High Street, but we're concerned the government hasn't yet matched her level of ambition with its response," said the BRC's director of business Tom Ironside.
"Bolder moves which could have made a significant difference are missing... This was an opportunity to revitalise our town centres for the 21st century but is in danger of becoming just another report on a dusty shelf."
The economic downturn that began in 2008 has added to problems besetting High Street shops, helping to trigger a number of high-profile closures at chains including Woolworths, Zavvi and Habitat.
The rise of internet shopping and out-of-town shopping centres have also hit High Street retailers hard.
A recent report commissioned by the government found that both online and out-of-town shopping have risen, with online sales doubling since 2000 to 10% of overall sales.
The report also said that a third of UK High Streets are "degenerating or failing".
Figures released last week also suggested that more shops are going under.
The proportion of shops in Britain lying empty hit a new record of 14.6% in February, according to figures compiled by the Local Data Company.