Government Response to Portas Review Lacks Ambition

The Government’s response to retail guru Mary Portas’ review of the UK high street “has not been bold enough” to properly revive Britain’s flagging town centres, say business groups.

Although business organisations welcomed the Government’s decision to back many of Portas’ 28 recommendations for improving Britain’s traditional retail centres, they have criticised policymakers for avoiding firm action on business rates and town centre parking charges.

In her review, published in December, Portas Review: Major Rethink on High Street Management (PRDF: The Portas Review), Mary Portas urged the Government to look at how the business rate system could better support small and independent retailers, and to encourage affordable town centre parking.

“We were pleased with many of Mary Portas’ findings, which set out a bold vision for the future of the high street, but we’re concerned the Government hasn’t yet matched her level of ambition with its response,”

said the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) director of business, Tom Ironside.

The review contained 28 proposals to revive Britain’s high streets, including a “town centre first” approach to planning, running town centres like businesses, creating “disincentives” to prevent landlords leaving properties empty, and action on rates and parking. Portas also called for the Secretary of State to be given exceptional “call-in” powers on any out of town developments.

In response, the Government has pledged to:

  • create 24 “Portas pilot” areas to pioneer strategic management approaches to town centres
  • retain the presumption in favour of town centre development in the National Policy and Planning Framework
  • double small business rates relief in England for two-and-a-half years
  • provide £1 million of funding towards development of Neighbourhood Plans for high streets
  • create a £10-million High Street Innovation fund to tackle vacant units
  • give £500,000 to fund new Business Improvement Districts
  • make it easier to change the use of properties on the high street
  • provide £306,000 of match funding to partnerships between small local businesses and larger firms.

However, among the things the Government has not committed to are pushing councils to provide free parking in town centres, reviewing the way business rates are structured and exceptional call-in powers for the Secretary of State.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive, James Lowman, said:

“The most important Portas recommendation was for the Government to call in all out-of-town planning applications for exceptional approval by ministers. Mary Portas identified that you can’t have strong high streets if out-of-town retail parks are springing up at the alarming rate we are seeing now, with 80% of new grocery development located out of town.”

Government Response to Portas Review Lacks Ambition

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