Portas Review: Major Rethink on High Street Management

Portas Review calls for major rethink on high street management

The Portas Review

Retail guru Mary Portas has called for a major rethink of how the UK’s town centres are managed, recommending that they be run like businesses with a focus on turning them into social and educational hubs, as well as shopping areas.

In a major review commissioned by Government, Portas has called for towns to set up town centre management teams and urgently address the costly parking, high business rates and planning laws that keep customers out of town centres and put independent retailers under pressure.

The review was commissioned by the Prime Minister in May after news that town centre vacancy rates had doubled in just two years. (See Mary Portas’ Independent Review of the High Street)

The Portas Review is accompanied by a Government report claiming that a third of UK high streets are “degenerating” and that by 2014 less than 40 per cent of retail spending will be on the high street.

“I fundamentally believe that once we invest in and create social capital in the heart of our communities, the economic capital will follow,” said Portas. “Our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting and social places that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community. I don’t want to live in a Britain that doesn’t care about community.”

The review makes five headline recommendations:

  1. Run town centres like businesses through ‘Town Teams’, developing the existing Business Improvement District (BID) model and encouraging more markets.
  2. Remove the factors that prevent businesses from flourishing, such as unpredictable and inflexible business rates and costly parking.
  3. Create a ‘town centre first’ approach to planning.
  4. Create ‘disincentives’ for landlords to leave properties empty and give local authorities the power to step in when landlords are negligent.
  5. Give communities a greater say in neighbourhood planning and encourage community use of empty properties.

Portas did not recommend a moratorium on out-of-town shopping developments — an idea championed by some business groups. However, business bodies welcomed the thrust of the Portas Review, particularly its focus on the ‘three Ps’ of parking, planning and property.

The British Retail Consortium backed Portas’ call for more affordable and predictable business rates and controlled free parking schemes. But director general Stephen Robertson expressed reservations about suggestions to penalise out-of-town parking.

“We agree, it would be ‘too easy’ to blame out-of-town retailing for the decline of our high streets,” said Robertson. “This plan should be about supporting a rich mix of retailing, not striking dividing lines between big names and independents or town centre and others.”

However, the Local Government Association accused Portas of failing to consult with council leaders and said her recommendations had the potential to sideline local authorities, which could lead to a worsening of problems such as anti-social behaviour.

But Liz Ellis, marketing executive for Kingstonfirst, the UK’s first BID, stressed that partnership with local authorities was critical if town centre management schemes were to work effectively.

“The leader of the council and police commander both sit on our board of directors, as well as large and small businesses,” she said. “We work with council officers all the time, they comment on planning applications and sit on various committees — and every business in our area has voted on our business plan. It’s all got to be done in partnership.”

Much of the Portas Review “made perfect sense”, said Ellis. But she conceded that the BID model itself “not necessarily the answer for every area”.

Read The Portas Review (PDF)

The Government said it would respond to the Portas Review early in 2012.

UPDATE: 5th February 2012 – It has: Love Your Local Market Campaign Criticised

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