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"The model of the High Street is so outdated," Ms Portas told the BBC.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 138.

    #118 Nottingham also prices cynically: £1.10 for 30 mins parking... no change given. Many is the time I've only had £1 coins so ended up sticking in £2. I've had 2 parking tickets in town in my entire life and both were fraudulently issued (inspector took a photo with a digital camera with the time set ten minutes slower than the actual time)

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Local councils are partly responsible for the decline. Our local council regularly approves the building of huge out of town supermarkets, They were told that approval for the latest 24 hour Tesco will lead to a 4% decline in the town centre but approved it anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Telford, a modern New Town where the only parking charges are at the newish Malls. Here, old High Streets comprise dowdy shops 40% Charity or Banks. Free Parking filled by workers not shoppers. Buses frequent but approximately 60p per mile. No brainer, use car, pay parking fees at Mall get plenty of choice of shops. Huge car parks at Malls, warm under cover shopping. Car cheaper than bus here!

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Are not High Street rents the major problem? The landlords are still charging rents as if there is no out-of-town alternative. That's what I heard from some of the retailers our way. And that was over ten years ago. Removing restrictions on anti-social unloading isn't make to make any significant difference. Just trying to look as if they care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    naive, self serving and misguided.

    anyone else here tried dealing with the arrogant little tin gods in local councils?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Nice ideas, except parking.

    Free parking, would be a huge step backwards. We are meant to be increasing sustainability among our people and their travel patterns. What should be happening, is increasing parking fees (in the larger towns), and this extra income should be used to subsidise bus services.

    1. You increase the footfall of the town centre
    2. You encourage sustainable travel patterns

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    But internet sales keep rising......

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    They seriously needed an "expert" to tell them this? That's pretty ridiculous on its own.

    High streets are going down (the ones that are going down) because of high rents (surely councils must realise more filled shops at lower rent is better and still recoup the money), a drop in local spending, and usually because theres been a big Tesco or Asda or something built within a couple of miles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Some suggest getting a proper business person, but where are those economists/government/business people who have (not) sorted out the global economy or the high street shop problem for 3years between them? I don't see them stepping up and taking apuon themselves to do something about it. Mary Portas is trying at least and she has a sucessful business acumen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    There are a huge amount of people here moaning about parking. If there was free parking you still would not get a park as they wall all be taken up by parking hogs and local residents. Not to mention all the extra traffic on the road trying to get to the high street - you would then be moaning about traffic jams and the price of petrol

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Andrew S"The car parking charges in Nottingham keep us away from the City Centre"

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    The problem in town centres can be summed up in three words. parking.. parking.. and PARKING!!.

    This was clearly demonstrated a couple of years ago when the police relinquished parking control to the local council. There was a transitional period of about 8 months where no one was in control and enforcing the rules. Our dying town was during that period vibrant, exciting, and extremely busy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    A survey of those business that are leaving the 'High Street' would be useful to discover why they are closing up. Ms Portas can speculate, so too the councils, but how about asking those people how are contributing to the vacant lots. When I went into business I was surprised at just how big a slice of my pie the government and council wanted for providing absolutely nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Does it truly matter? High street shopping to me is an unpleasant bus journey followed by several hours of being pushed about and shouted at by ill-mannered crowds, all for the dubious pleasure of finding a very limited range of goods at high prices. Shopping online is more convenient, a lot more pleasant, the range of goods is far bigger and the prices are lower. THAT explains highstreet declines

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I was born and brought up in Wales.

    Going back home on visit, I found our local town deserted. What was once the main shopping street, is now reverting to houses or empty dusty places up for rent. Several charity shops and a Pound World.

    Back in Victorian times this street was only houses, Locals selling home brew beer through their front windows. It looks to me that things are reverting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I want to tell you about the plight of Holt, Norfolk, where residents and the businesses have given their overwhelming support for the building of a new car park. However, Norfolk County Council are not supporting the wishes of the local community or taking account of the significant wealth and employment generated by the High Street in Holt. I hope that NCC will listen to Mary Portas and the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Who needs someone to tell us the obvious?
    Re-populate the vast areas of vacant first floor accommodation with residences.
    Encourage town centre offices instead of out of town office space.
    Rents reflect demand but Rates are fixed by Government. Business Rates are crippling shop keepers.
    Upward rent reviews are not common nowadays as indeed long leases are not the norm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I no longer shop in town centres for one reason - car parking. After a recent shopping trip I saw a parking officer by my car but I strolled back quite leisurely, as by my watch I was precisely on time, only to find that she had been standing there waiting for the second hand to tick over so she could press the print button precisely as I arrived! Never again I swore, so I haven't been back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    The expertise of the local council in Bangor NI has given us for the last fifteen years a monstrosity of a seafront. At the last time of reading it may well be another fifteen years before it's complete. Our councillors couldn't run a corner shop. (except the one who does :-) )

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    High business rates and car parking charges in town centres raise money but make us have to go out of town and to internet shopping.

    If business rates were to cease and parking become free, we could return to the town centres and cut our petrol bills, keeping cash in our own area.

    Councils should also level the playing field by charging town centre rates on out of town shops AND their car parks.


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