TV's Mary Portas to head High Street shops review
TV retail guru Mary Portas is to carry out a government-backed review aimed at halting the "decline of the High Street" in England.
She will look at the problem of empty shops and how to prevent the growth of "clone towns" dominated by chainstores.
Ms Portas, the star of Mary Queen of Shops and Secret Shopper, is due to present her findings in the autumn.
Labour has also made increasing the diversity of High Street shops a priority in its current policy review.
Leader Ed Miliband has suggested the party could push for changes to planning law to prevent towns becoming dominated by multinational retailers and to give local people "more of a say over what happens on their High Street".
Ms Portas's review, carried out for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, will involve visits to several town centres and "engagement events" with shopowners and customers.
She said: "With town centre vacancy rates doubling over the last two years the need to take action to save our High Streets has never been starker.
"I am calling on businesses, local authorities and shoppers to contribute their ideas on how we can halt this decline in its tracks and create town centres that we can all be proud of."'Wasted opportunities'
A report published on Monday by the Ernst & Young Item Club suggests UK High Street spending will not return to pre-recession levels until 2013.
It also said consumer spending is expected to rise by only 2% a year up to 2020.
Ms Portas will present her report to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the aim being "to identify what government, local authorities and businesses can do to promote the development of more prosperous and diverse High Streets".
End Quote Stephen Robertson British Retail Consortium
Independents are a vital part of an attractive retail mix but so are the big names”
Mr Clegg said: "Empty High Streets are a blight on the local economy. Vacant shops are also a wasted opportunity with far reaching consequences.
"When goods and services start to disappear, our sense of community can be weakened and undermined. It is vital therefore that we examine what steps can be taken to revitalise and reinvigorate High Street shopping centres across the country."
Prime Minister David Cameron said: "The High Street should be at the very heart of every community, bringing people together, providing essential services and creating jobs and investment; so it is vital that we do all that we can to ensure they thrive.
"That is why I am delighted that Mary Portas has agreed to take on this review and I am confident that her straight-talking, no-nonsense approach will help us to create vibrant and diverse town centres and bring back the bustle to our High Streets."'Real say'
Labour said people must be able to influence the make-up of High Streets in their areas and proposed legislation on giving local communities more powers currently being debated by MPs could be used to protect small traders and promote retail diversity.
"We need to put the heart back into Britain's High Streets," shadow local government minister Jack Dromey said. "Labour wants to give communities a real say over the future of their high street and the power to make the changes they want enshrined in law."
A former creative director at Harvey Nichols retail group, Ms Portas has since become known as a TV expert on transforming under-performing shops, starring in the BBC's Mary, Queen of Shops before moving to Channel 4, where she presents Secret Shopper.
Previously Ms Portas has blamed supermarkets for "killing" Britain's smaller shops by making it impossible for them to compete on price.
The British Retail Consortium said the review must take into consideration the interests of all retailers, whatever their size.
"The government is right to recognise the future of our High Streets cannot be left to chance but it must take a positive approach that supports retailers of all types and sizes," its director-general Stephen Robertson said.
"Independents are a vital part of an attractive retail mix but so are the big names. This review should not seek to restrict that choice by making life harder for any particular category of retailers."