An independent review into the UK high street, carried out by retail advisor Mary Portas, has drawn reactions from business organisations with the BRC describing her ideas as “sensible”.
Yesterday’s report was unveiled to help generate ideas to boost the UK’s dwindling high street footfall and enthusiasm in local shops, as supermalls and out of town shopping parks increase in number.
Portas said to the BBC: “The model of the high street is outdated, it’s working in the same way that it did in the 1960s, except it’s not 1960 anymore”.
The oft-described ‘retail guru’ outlined her ideas in a list of 28 recommendations to help drive shoppers back to their local high streets. She offered that local councils should change their licensing to allow for more local markets and to encourage traders to set up stalls.
Portas also recommended that free parking should be provided for shoppers, but this was criticised for its short sightedness, with commentators suggesting that retail workers would simply take up the spaces themselves.
Yesterday’s High Street Review was published alongside a government paper called Understanding High Street Performance. It said that retail spending on the UK high streets has fallen from 49% in 2000 to 42% today. The government predicts that spending will drop a further 2% in the next three years.
Portas outlined her vision of the high street, suggesting that landlords should cut rent to fill empty shops and that it was in their interest to take a cut on the rent they charge. “High streets must be ready to experiment, try new things, take risks and become destinations again. They need to be spaces and places that people want to be in. High streets of the future must be a hub of the community that local people are proud of and want to protect,” she says in her report.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that Portas had done an excellent job with the report. In a video released yesterday, Cameron said the high street has become “hollowed out” that needed to become lively and attractive. He said Portas had provided the blueprint to do this.
“Let’s behave like the shopping malls, with the gyms, cafes, shops, restaurants that people want,” said Cameron.
He said he was passionate about the high street cause and said that every town will have a high street that is known and loved. “I think it’s important that we free up some of the planning restrictions that hold our high street back,” said Cameron, “It’s in the landlords’ interest not to leave the high street shops empty.”
Richard Dodd from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that the 28 recommendations for the high street outlined by Portas were “sensible”. Dodd said that the recommendations were useful contributions that could help to generate interest and stimulate high street shopping.
A summary of Mary Portas’ 28 recommendations to revive 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
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