Mary Portas unveils report into High Street revival

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

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"The model of the High Street is so outdated," Ms Portas told the BBC.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

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.

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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