Mary Portas unveils high street review

The retail guru is on a mission to save the British town centre from ruin.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2014

Mary Portas posted her high street review online at 10:30 this morning, and she certainly hasn't pulled any punches. Britain's shopping districts are in crisis, she says. ‘Many are sickly, others are on the critical list and some are now dead.’

David Cameron asked Portas to look into the high street issue back in May. No one can say she hasn't been thorough. After six months of intensive research, she has called for radical action from government and local councils to stimulate enterprise and make it easier for people to set up shop and trade on UK high streets. The law must be nuanced, she says, to allow local authorities to give business rate concessions if warranted. Planning laws must be relaxed and licensing laws for market stalls must be simplified to allow ordinary people to start trading on the high street.

Speaking on the BBC's Today programme, she says, 'We've got car boot sales in some really horrible car parks off the M25. Why would you go there? Put them on the high street. It makes absolute sense.'

Power to the people is a key theme behind Portas' recommendations. Consumers must be allowed to have a say in their own high streets, she insists: 'They're civic places, they're not private spaces, and therefore we as customers should stop being so passive and actually be co-creators, with the councils, with the landlords, with the businesses, with the retailers.'

Some of Portas' plans are radical - she wants business rates to be uprated in line with the lower consumer price index inflation (CPI), rather than the retail price index (RPI) - and some are fluffy - a national 'Market Day'. But, given the current state of the high street, government is likely to try anything to try and slow the decay.

Latest figures show that an estimated 20 shops close down every day in the UK. There are 159 towns in the UK where at least one in five shops has closed down - in some places it's one in three. Sprawling retails parks like Bullring in Birmingham are drawing crowds out of town centres and creating artificial public hubs in out-of-the-way places, creating trade for big brands but freezing out the smaller, independent traders that can't afford the rent.

Portas was considering backing a moratorium on out-of-town shopping malls to combat the high street exodus but decided against it, focusing instead on ways that the high street can fight back - a more secure, long-term strategy, dubbed Town Centre First. Her plans have received the full backing of the Federations of Small Business.

'If we want to ensure vibrant high streets for the future, we need to carefully balance [the out-of-town] expansion with ensuring that existing town centres are not unwittingly damaged,' says national chairman John Walker. 'It looks like, through this review, Mary Portas has really understood that challenge, and has put forward measures that should ensure the long-term sustainability of our high streets.'

The British Retail Consortium's Richard Dodd is also backing Portas' review: 'It seems that there are a good number of sensible ideas in the report which, if taken together and adopted, could make a difference to many of our troubled high streets. Clearly a national market day is never going to be the sole solution but alongside a range of other measures it could make a useful contribution.'

We have Mary Portas' recommendations in full below:

Mary Portas' 28-point plan to save the high street

1. Put in place a 'Town Team': a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets

2. Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become "Super-BIDs"

3. Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to their Business Improvement District

4. Establish a new "National Market Day" where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business

5. Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not

6. Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers

7. Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses

8. Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI

9. Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table

10. Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe

11. Government should include high street deregulation as part of their ongoing work on freeing up red tape

12. Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street

13. Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own

14. Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework

15. Introduce Secretary of State 'exceptional sign off' for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an 'affordable shops' quota

16. Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers

17. Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report

18. Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses

19. Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant

20. Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them

21. Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space

22. Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new "Empty Shop Management Orders"

23. Introduce a public register of high street landlords

24. Run a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans

25. Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans

26. Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system

27. Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new 'Community Right to Try'

28. Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept

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