Mary Portas unveils report into High Street revival


Mary Portas: "There is future potential for the High Street but we need to look at it a different way"

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A report into how to revive the High Street by retail expert Mary Portas recommends getting town centres to run more like businesses.

The government has also published research on High Streets' performance which shows that a third of them are "degenerating or failing".

Ms Portas outlines plans for cutting regulations for High Street traders and the launch of a national market day.

But council leaders have criticised her for not consulting them.

Relaxing rules

"The model of the High Street is so outdated," Ms Portas told the BBC. "It is working in the same way that it did in the 1960s, but the 1960s are no longer here."

Ms Portas, the star of TV show Mary Queen of Shops, wants High Streets to be managed through new "town teams" who would be responsible for developing businesses in the area.

Her report recommends relaxing licensing rules for market stalls to make it easier for people to set up stands.

Ms Portas wants some regulations to be axed for High Street traders, including restrictions on night-time deliveries put in place to minimise noise for those living nearby.

A national market day aimed at promoting indoor or outdoor markets and helping drive traffic towards shops is another proposal.

But Ms Portas decided against a moratorium on out-of-town shopping developments - an idea championed by some business groups.

Main 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
Free parking

Having affordable town centre parking is another key recommendation.

In a recent survey, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found that 50% of their members said the lack of affordable town centre parking had a detrimental effect on their business.

John Walker, chairman of the FSB, said: "Putting in place free controlled parking schemes and introducing a parking league table could go some way in [addressing] this."

But Shona Johnstone from the Local Government Association was critical of the proposal.

She said retail workers could end up taking all the free parking spaces before shoppers got to town centres. "It sounds like a good idea, but isn't going to help," she said.

'Downward spiral'

The High Street Review has been published alongside new government-commissioned research which underlines how badly affected the town centre is.

The report, entitled Understanding High Street Performance, suggests that a third of High Streets are "degenerating or failing".

It says retail spending in town centres has fallen to 42% from 49% in 2000 and is projected to fall further to 40% by 2014.

Chart showing change in shops in town centres

In contrast, both online and out-of-town shopping have risen, with online sales doubling since 2000 to 10% and predicted to rise to more than 12% by 2014.

The performance report also details what it calls the "downward spiral of decline" on the High Street. It begins when a store closes down, followed by a weakened performance in nearby shops, less footfall and increased chance of further closures.

High-profile closures, including chains such as Woolworths and Zavvi, have added to this spiral. Big chains that desert High Streets in favour of larger regional outlets have also played a part in the decline of town centres.

'Sensible ideas'

Richard Dodd, from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said there were a "good number of sensible ideas" in the report.

He said: "Clearly a national market day is never going to be the sole solution, but alongside a range of other measures, it could make a useful contribution to generate interest and stimulate shop numbers, adding to the originality and distinctiveness of particular town centres."

But the Local Government Association (LGA) said it was concerned that the local expertise of councils would get overlooked.

Peter Box, chairman of its economy and transport committee, said: "Councils play a crucial role in growing local economies and improving High Streets and need to be suitably consulted if they are to achieve this.

"We urge Mary Portas to enter discussions with councils on how they can boost local High Streets."

'Not all in crisis'

Retail analyst Matthew Hopkinson from the Local Data Company pointed out that "not all High Streets are in crisis", with some town centres having low shop vacancy rates.

Mr Hopkinson said that the development of new shopping channels during the past 10 years had caused problems for traditional town centre retailers.

"Town centres have to be destinations now, they have to be more than just shopping," he added.

Maureen Hinton, a retail analyst at Verdict Research, said out-of-town shopping centres with free parking and a wide range of stores gave consumers what they wanted.

"The way people shop is around convenience," she added.

However, she said the expansion of services allowing people to order online and collect from local stores was luring shoppers back to the High Street.

"The high cost of driving and an ageing population is also making local shopping much more attractive," Ms Hinton said.

The government will publish its response to Ms Portas' proposals in early 2012.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    The car parking charges in Nottingham keep us away from the City Centre during the week, thus, if we decide to go shopping / eat out in the week we take a 30 minute drive to an out of town shopping centre and park for free all day - Nottingham have now extended charges to Sunday. More out of town shopping for us !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    The logical fallacy here is "the way things are is therefore the way they should be". Why do we need to protect our high streets as a shopping centre?
    Technology makes shops redundant, like coal delivery or knife grinders. People won't buy in a shop when it's cheaper online.
    We'd do better to save a trade being forced out of business artifically, which still has demand: The high street pub.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    High street retailers are never going to be able to compete with the internet on price, so people often use them to see the item they intend to purchase before buying it cheaper online.

    The high street needs to evolve; if shops can differentiate themselves on customer service they might stand a chance - unfortunately too many of them have not grasped this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Reasons for not going to the High St:
    1) Don't need to - (can use internet / suburban retail parks )
    2) Extortionate parking fees
    3) Fuel costs getting to/from High St
    4) Workplace is now also away from town so won't nip into market on way home
    5) Lack of time to wander in shops

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Saving the high street is like peeing into the wind. In France they have loads of markets, a greater variety of shops and lots of free or cheap parking, but the high street is still dying. Sorry to be so pesimistic but it will only get worse when the current older generation dies out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    #1. Why not Mary Portas? Noone else has, including you and I.
    #2 Behind 'those few high street shops' are employees, families, people trying to earm a modest living. Go bang your political drum in the politics section. As many have said, Loucal council are significantly to blame and the have been in both Tory and Labour held seats for decades.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    The "high street" want us to shop locally. I wonder if they might consider sourcing a little more locally than China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Perhaps Mary should have a chat with the owner of Poundland!

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    The local councils are the last people you want to involve in any high street developments. They haven't a clue.

    There are far too many people offeringa advice and directions who have never actually worked in the retail business. They have no idea. There are lots of them here I guess?

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    My own high street has 5 charity shops. How is it that these 'business', (because charity is a BIG business, with well fitted shops, paid managers, plush HQ's, free stock, and well meaning but exploited volunteers) get away with 50% reduction in rates when 'proper' shops have to suffer full costs ? Combine this with expensive parking (£4 for 4 hours !) and no wonder the 'high street' is dying ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Two words will provide a good chunk of the solution - "free parking".

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    The uniform business rate introduce by the Conservatives in 1990 killed off my local suburban high street. The rates for most shops tripled overnight and they couldn't afford it.

    The result? Instead of a pet store, two grocers, an ironmongery, a haberdashery et al, we now have just estate agents, bars and takeaways.

    It's a dead zone for shopping now. Thanks Mr Major.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    If you want to hear a crazy idea then go to Margate where there is a proposal to build a huge Tesco on the seafront next to the iconic Dreamland. Margate high street is a wasteland at the moment and this idea is supposed to regenerate it. I would have thought that enough destruction has been achieved by the council allowing the out of town Westwood Cross shopping centre. Don't they ever learn?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Like many of the problems in Britain the issues facing shops are more to do with the cost of property. Very few people owning or renting more than a single room can afford to work in the high street due to the cost of living. On top of that rental for premises are too high. In order change the high street from pound shops and charities property prices need to fall.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Mary Portas already has success. How about giving ordinary people the chance to express their dreams of how town centers and city centers could be improved. Ordinary people are not taken seriously and yet, they are the ones who know what is needed. I would personally love to have a chance at outlining a plan to bring life back into my own city. Money is the only things that is allowed to talk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Out of town shopping centres usually have plenty of free parking. Town centres do not have enough parking and what there is, is very expensive.

    Shops are over heated and crammed so tight with merchandise you can hardly move and shop keepers treat every shopper as a potential thief instead of a potential sale.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    There are too many wanting too large a share of every pound spent in the High Street. Rents, rates, employment taxes, insurance, parking, VAT, transport & salaries are now so high that they dwarf the actual intrinsic costs of the goods being sold. This means its much cheaper to buy things online from suppliers (often overseas) who don't have such high overheads. Greed has killed the High Street.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I may be wrong but weren't the planning application laws either relaxed or smoothed over recently which effectively made it easier for the big supermarkets to open new stores?

    If this is so then it seems counter to any attempts to revive the high street.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Peter Box the chair of one commitee of the Local Govt Assoc. said: "We urge Mary Portas to enter discussions with councils on how they can boost local High Streets."
    Basically he admits that the people sitting in these local govts, who then group up into assocs to discuss gems, don't trust themselves, and need to turn to outside consultants. Why don't they just employ competent staff?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Shops close, or don't open in the first place, because rents are far too expensive, which is because property prices are still vastly inflated, which are still being supported (using our money) by government.


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