Government backs Portas high street plans
The government has today confirmed that it is accepting the vast majority of the recommendations made by Mary Portas last December on how to revive the British high street.
Many proposals made by the TV personality & PR professional, such as providing business rates discounts to small businesses, extending opening hours & clearing up dilapidated areas, cutting red-tape for high street traders, and reducing parking charges have been fully supported by the government.
In addition to the existing recommendations, Housing & Local Government Minister Grant Shapps has also announced that a number of new initiatives will be launched to help revive struggling town centres.
A £10 million High Street Innovation Fund will be set up to help bring empty shops back into use; a £1 million Future High Street X-Fund will be paid in a year’s time to a UK high street which introduces the most creative and effective initiatives; a Nation Market Day, launching a National Markets Fortnight, will be introduced; and a £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts is to be created.
Portas Pilots, a scheme whereby town centres from around the country are chosen to trial some of Portas’ ideas, will also be extended after massive interest following the first 12 pilots being launched last month.
Shapps commented: “Today, I’m accepting virtually all of the recommendations from Mary Portas’s review – but I’m also going that one step further, offering a ‘Portas-Plus’ deal, with a range of measures designed to help local people turn their high streets into the beating hearts of their communities once again.
“Mary Portas’s review made crystal clear the stark challenge our high streets face. With Internet shopping and out-of-town centres here to stay, they must offer something new if they are to entice visitors back.”
Although largely supportive of the plans put forward by Portas, there were several significant recommendations made by the star of TV show ‘Mary’s Bottom Line’ which have been rejected by the government.
The official response today stated that any change to business rates, and in particular changing the calculation from being based on the retail price index to the lower consumer price index, will not be considered until at least the end of the government’s deficit reduction agenda.
New large out-of-town developments will not need an ‘exceptional sign-off’ from the Secretary of State to proceed, as Portas had requested, banks will not be forced to sell empty properties which they fail to administer, and developers will not be required to fund local group’s challenging proposed construction.
Several of the key recommendations fall under the responsibility of local authorities rather than central government, but Shapps has said that he and his department fully back the introduction of more free parking in town centres, more concessions on business rates, and plans to allow local groups to have more control over high street ownership.
Martin Blackwell, CEO of the Association of Town Centre Management, said: “We all recognise that the high street in 10 or even five years will be radically different to that we see today.
“This Government’s approach, shown in the response to Mary’s report, is giving local communities the opportunity to shape the future High Street they want to see in their town.”