The government’s response to the Mary Portas Review has been given a mixed welcome by the retail industry.
The report, unveiled by housing minister Grant Shapps, responded to all 28 of Portas’ recommendations with varying degrees of agreement.
Areas in which the government agreed to act on include creating a £10m High Street Innovation Fund to bring empty shops back into use, a £1m Future High Street X-Fund which will be awarded to the locations with the most creative and effective schemes to revitalise their high streets, a £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts and a further 12 Portas Pilots set for later this year.
“The Portas’ review made crystal clear the stark challenge our high streets face,” said Shapps. “With internet shopping and out-of-town centres here to stay, they must offer something new if they are to entice visitors back. Her report has provided the catalyst for change that many towns have been craving. I now want to see people coming together to form their own town teams and turning their creative ideas into reality to ensure their high streets thrive long into the future.”
Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman mostly welcomed the response but felt the government overlooked Portas’ recommendations for planning applications. “The most important Portas recommendation was for the government to call in all out of town planning applications for exceptional approval by ministers,” he said. “If this recommendation is not implemented, it will undermine not only Mary Portas’ excellent work, but also the new National Planning Policy Framework.
“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,” he said.
Lowman also called on the government to act on parking charges and business rates. “If local authorities are given the power to lower parking charges and make town centre shopping more accessible, it will give many high street retailers a much needed boost,” he added. “Despite the action government has taken on business rates retailers still face a 5.6% increase in rates based on a spike in inflation. The government must be more radical and look to introduce a cap on business rates increase instead of CPI inflation indicators.”
Mary Portas agreed that these issues should not be overlooked by the government: “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.”