Mary Portas High Street plans get government go ahead


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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

Main Portas recommendations

  • Improve management of High Streets with new "town teams"
  • Affordable town centre car parking
  • "Town centre first" approach in planning
  • Disincentives for landlords who leave shops empty
  • Greater inclusion of the High Street in neighbourhood planning

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.

Makeover needed

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."

'Sustained effort'

The measures have been welcomed by retail groups.

Start Quote

Bolder moves which could have made a significant difference are missing”

End Quote Tom Ironside British Retail Consortium

"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.

Mary Portas The government announced in May last year that Mary Portas would lead the review

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.

Chart showing change in shops in town centres

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  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    A high street needs to be an experience. You need to feel comfortable just standing or sitting on a bench. None of this soulless McDonald's, Tesco's nonsense. You need greenery and open spaces. I would even allow recognised artists and graffiti artists to spruce up walls with tasteful or thought provoking art work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    I would prefer more cafes, restaurants, and public places like libraries, theatres, cinemas, etc. - more emphasis on community and less on consumption. I would also like to be able to go out in the evening without being surrounded by noisy drunks. Let's have some alcohol-free zones in our towns and cities

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Open up a few more pubs in the vacant premises and run late night buses. Might go against the Government's anti-drink inititive but you cant have everything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    2 big errors that the Policians and Portas do not address at all:

    1) Most vacant shops have tenants paying rents but not in occupation. They are not landlords voids as is wronly assumed.

    2) Councils will not get more money from Rates if shops are trading not vacant. The landlord or the absent tenant has to pay them anyway.

    Car parking won't be free anytime soon then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Small independents are the way forward and the costs for these guys must be driven down, but to assist we are going to have to dig a little deeper as consumers and stop buying cheap tat......

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Lets face it why go to the high street to pay for over priced goods Clothes, dvd's, games etc etc. Alot of these goods are not just a quid or so cheaper online but alot cheaper, why pay twice the price from the high street? end of the day price is King

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Turn it all 180 degrees make Tesco Asda Sainsbury B&Q, Homebase & shopping centres etc. charge 2 pound an hour for parking see if they sequel.
    Money gained to go to free parking at Hospitals for appointments, RNLI, Air Ambulance all not paid for by other taxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Not being a snob or anything . . but this seems to be more of a problem in run down areas.

    Folks living in those areas will travel elsewhere on a Saturday afternoon, and I don't blame them. Who wants to sit a coffee shop looking at boarded up shops and drunks ?

    Give these run down town centres to architectural colleges for free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    A change to shop openning hours would help, by the time I finish work, the shops are shut. I accept that it would be more anti social for the staff but if shops opened later and stayed open later it may help - say from 11 till 8.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    I'm not sure a few million here or there is of any consequence - I would hope that Mr Osbourn's generous gift of £1billion reduction in corporate tax revenues would manifest itself positively....perhaps, government adviser Phil Green will be able to avoid those redundancies he keeps highlighting,before he flies to Monaco for the weekend...

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    So in the same week that the government decides to give money to a dozen High Streets, they've also done away with planning regulations which would control the spread of out-of-town shopping centres and retail parks.


  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    1) Govt policy is 'no poll tax increase' to entice the we got a local parking charges increased instead
    2) Subsidised (allegedly) delivery schemes from unhealthily dominant supermarkets have wiped out the food shops in the high street

    That's why we have no high street, just pound shops, and if we want a high street back, that's what we need to deal with

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Demolish some of the scores of empty, boarded up shops and replace them with affordable short term parking. Change the identikit facades, as every high street looks the same nowadays. Put some greenery amidst the concrete slabs. Encourage "quirky" shops instead of the 20 giant chain stores that make up every high street. In other words, make our town centres an interesting place to go to again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Make all High Street shops have a simple universal IDent/Logo system hung at 90deg above the entrance so drivers/passers by can see where the shoe shop is from the estate agent from the convenience store at a glance, you know where Mac Donald's is from a mile away why not the florist. It pays to advertise but in the clutter/ mess of unbranded shops in high street hard to spot what your after.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    I question whether we should save the High Street at all. What is so special about a fad that is less than 200 years old, does every small town need town centre shops, should not the customers choice lead the way? We have been sold the myth of 'Retail Therapy' by the big stores when what we really want is effort free shopping at good prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I used to go shopping in Croydon. I took my kids to the pantomime there once too - but when we stepped out of the Enchanted Forest we entered the Urban jungle. The area has been destroyed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Lower the rates, cap the rents and introduce (or bring back in Wiltshire's case) 1 hour free parking.

    Free parking encourages people to call in, perhaps visit a coffee shop and have a stroll around the town. Without it, they end up at the supermarket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    How about cutting VAT and some other taxes so we actually have some

    cash to take to the shops?

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    After 10-15 years of turning shopping into an 'experience' we have all become bored and looking for something new. Ah ! forgot, now got no spare cash to spend, so looking for a cheaper 'experience' Its called survival.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Maybe we just already have what we actually need?
    Face it - continual expansion is a total pipe-dream.


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