Portas review: High streets “in crisis”

Mary Portas has set out 28 recommendations to revive the UK high street, but admits that not all town centres can be saved.

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Her recommendations fall under five main categories; to get town centres running like businesses: get the basics right to allow businesses to flourish: level the playing field between large and small retailers, define landlords’ roles and responsibilities and giving communities a greater say.

As part of her recommendations for the high street, Portas outlines a need for a “high profile” campaign to promote Neighbourhood Plans and include local communities in development plans for their town centres.

The Government introduced “Neighbourhood Plans” last year under the Localism Bill as a way of giving local people more power over what happens where they live. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Planning Minister Greg Clark put forward plans to decentralise planning that would see communities vote on plans in local referendums.

Portas says: “I fundamentally believe that once we invest in and create social capital in the heart of our communities, the economic capital will follow. Those who see high streets purely in commercial terms need a reality check, because, without the engagement and collaboration of local people many high streets will die and retailers, landlords and local authorities alike will see their investment wasted.”

“Whilst there has been an awful lot of thinking about the high street most of it has been done in isolation rarely backed by any kind of creative vision,” she adds.

Today marks the end of a six month review process which saw Portas meet with retailers, consumers, councils and trade bodies around the UK to find examples of initiatives that are successfully keeping high streets alive, as well as examples of less successful shopping areas.

In her column in the Daily Telegraph today (13 December), Portas says: “I believe our high streets have reached crisis point … the only hope of our high streets surviving is to recognise what has happened and to provide something new.”

The report outlines her vision to create “the new sustainable high street” including recommending increasing parking costs for out-of-town retail parks to entice shoppers back into town centres as out of town retail has “drained the traffic and shopping trade from town centres” and removing red tape.

Portas hopes that the review is a catalyst for change to encourage retailers, local councils and consumers to “engage with an alternative” and “inspires people to “innovate and embrace the change that’s necessary”.

The Portas review comes as separate government research reveals that by 2014, less than 40% of retail spending will be on the high street and that out-of-town retail floor space has risen by 30% over the last decade while in town space has shrunk by 14%.

The number of empty units on UK high streets reached 14.5% according to the Local Data Company’s latest Shop Vacancy report in September and retail footfall dropped 2.3% between August and October this year compared to last.

The government will publish its response to the recommendations next Spring.

The full report can be found here.

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