Mary Portas gets on her high (street) horse again

The Queen of Shops has hit out against plans to soften rules preventing out-of-town developments. She might even write a letter to the PM...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
You’ve got to hand it to Mary Portas, her from off of that Queen of Shops programme (and, latterly, the Government’s adviser on the future of high streets). Since she’s waded into the high street vs out of town developments debate, the plight of independent shops has never been far from the headlines. She’s in the news again today, after she had a moan about the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which she says conflict with her one-woman mission to Save Our High Streets. So alarmed is she, that she says ‘it may be I have to write to David Cameron’. Careful.

The plans (for those of us who don’t spend our Saturday mornings poring over the latest suggestions for new legislation) would loosen rules currently in place meaning developers are only allowed to build out of town if there isn’t anywhere suitable in the town-centre. Small shopkeepers are, understandably, a little perturbed by the plans – after all, the current rules put a halt to developers’ mass migration out of towns. ‘We will have two years of carnage where developers will try to build everywhere they want,’ one miserable retail property executive told The Times. Aah.

On the other side of the argument are the likes of Next CEO Simon Wolfson (or, to give him his correct moniker, Conservative peer Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise). Wolfson points out that people don’t like shopping on high streets because ‘you can’t drive in and if you can, car parking is too expensive and a lot of units haven’t been touched by development in 20 years’. To put it another way: many high streets are outdated, inaccessible and expensive.

Of course, what that really suggests is that it’s not so much a case of preventing retail parks so much as improving the conditions on our high streets. In many ways, shoppers are being forced out of high streets. But better streets, cheaper parking and improved public transport links would all go some way to attracting more shoppers into town. After all – who honestly wants to spend their time queuing for a parking space at a retail village when they can be wandering around their nearest city centre?

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