Retailers located in the successful Portas Pilot towns have dismissed the initiative as “too little, too late”.
The government recently announced that 12 towns across England would share a £1.2m fund to revive their high streets. ‘Town teams’ will now put into practice their ideas, which include a ‘school for shopkeepers’, street theatres, pop-up shops, street champions and utilising empty properties for community projects.
But Mark Johnson, of Celebrations Off Licence in Stockport, said nothing would be achieved without addressing business rates and rent. “Stockport is an historic market town, there’s lots of potential. But if large blue-chip companies can’t make it, what chance do small retailers have? It’s down to the economy as a whole and the activity of the mults.”
“The project is all about bringing people together and creating ideas. The council will match the £100,000 provided by the government, and we received a further £100,000 ‘Pilot Plus’ empty property fund.”
Stockport council press officer
“Dartford needs it, everything’s gone away. They’re trying something new, which is good. But £100k won’t touch the sides. What happens when the money’s finished?”
Londis Bexley Park, Dartford, Kent
“I welcome new ideas. It’ll raise awareness and inspire people to return to town centres. I’m positive as long as there’s continuity, but I’m not sure how it will help Bedford’s surrounding area.”
Malcolm Crump of Spar Compton, Wolverhampton, said: “You can’t turn it around with £100,000. It’s too little, too late. No one’s prepared to invest in the town - if we were in the town centre we wouldn’t survive.
“It needs to be rebuilt with huge investment. Out-of-town retail parks are one of the major causes of the problem. They benefit Tesco and no one else.
“Business rates need to be favourable. We need a financial incentive for retailers to move in. Street performers and a town crier? It’s almost a joke.”
But retailers are being urged to stifle their cynicism and embrace the opportunity. James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said he understood retailers’ reservations, but added: “So many more decisions are being made locally so the principle of people coming together to find solutions is more important than ever. There’s nothing to be lost with getting involved.”
He said the harder issues facing retailers, such as business rates, were ducked by the government in its response to the Portas Review. “But regarding concerns over rent, landlords will be involved in town teams so this is a chance to address issues.”