Portas review ignites Government innovation fund for high street

The government is to launch a £10m innovation fund to rejuvenate empty shops after accepting almost all of the recommendations from last year’s independent review by retail expert Mary Portas.

Mary Portas

The department for housing and local government is to launch a fund that will help local communities bring empty shops in town centres to use as one of the key components of its response to Portas’ review.

It also vows to cut back on red tape to stimulate growth and create dedicated town teams to manage high streets.

Further details of the response will be announced by Grant Shapps, the minister for housing and local government, later today (20 March) and are expected to include:

A National Markets Day to encourage entrepreneurs to invest in innovation and drive footfall to town centres

A £1m Future High street fund to award towns that deliver the most effective rejuvenation projects over the next 12 months.

An additional £500,000 to help towns access loans.

Portas set out 28 recommendations in her December review commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron, which included plans to get town centres running like businesses and giving communities a greater say in how they are run.

Shapps says that he would accept “virtually all” of the recommendations from the review and added that he was going “one step further”, offering a ‘Portas Plus’ deal with a range of measures designed to “help local people turn their high streets into the beating hearts of their communities once again.”

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) welcomed the plans to aid retailers but urged the Government to show greater ambition to revitalise high streets.

Tom Ironside, director of business at the BRC, says: “Bolder moves which could’ve made a significant difference are missing, particularly in the light of the extra £350 million retailers will have to find because of this year’s business rates rise.”

It remains unclear whether the Government will support Portas’ call to give the Secretary of State the authority to decide the fate of new out-of-town developments.

Portas said she was “pleased” that the response from the government is designed to give “local people the tools they need to tun their creative ideas into reality”, but was disappointed that further action wasn’t being taken.

She adds: “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, but I do believe that today marks the first day of a fresh new approach, putting our high streets firmly back on the public and national agenda.”

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