Portas pilot descends into farce as Margate bosses walk out en masse

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Mary Portas’ efforts to save the British high street descended into seaside farce this week as the leadership of one of her first ‘town teams’ quit en masse.

The shock departures came amid claims her TV crew was more interested in making controversial TV than turning round the fortunes of the Kent resort.

Robin Vaughan-Lyons, chairman of the Margate town team, said filming of a Channel 4 documentary series – covering its plans to use £100,000 of taxpayers’ cash to revive flagging trade – had turned into a bitter power struggle.

He accused TV crews of deliberately trying to stoke up disagreements between the team’s leadership and businesses in the town, claiming Portas herself had “completely blanked” the town’s bosses  while she attended filming.

Vaughan-Lyons said the ructions – which spilled over as the film crew descended on Margate for a second spate of filming following the town’s successful bid to become a Portas pilot – came even before the town team could draw up a plan on spending the £100,000.

“I’m absolutely devastated but I was left with absolutely no option,” he told The Grocer.

“There are a group of people who are more interested in publicity and being on TV than they are in helping Margate and they have been deliberately encouraged by the film crew to make personal attacks on us.

“We have not objected to the filming of the show but for us it’s more about what we do to help the high street. But the filming has led to all sorts of disgraceful activity.”

As well as community shop owner Vaughan-Lyons, Louise Oldfield has quit as secretary and press officer of the team. Treasurer Ian Darker-Larkings, a bistro owner, and vice chair Roxanne Tesslar, a tea shop owner, have also quit.

“I have had no contact with Mary,” added Vaughan-Lyons. “But what’s happened has left me completely disillusioned with the whole initiative.”

Oldfield added: “My position has become untenable with individuals consistently acting outside the team. I have been subjected to public bullying by individuals who are seeking to further their own personal interests rather than the aims of the bid.”

Vaughan-Lyons said it was now unclear who would take over the running of the team.

“We have just been given a shop by a landlord to work from, the website is all in our names and we had just started to sit down and start going through the budget. We should have been jubilant but as it is we’ve been in tears,” he said.

Readers' comments (9)

  • This is always the problem when Entertainment and Reality meet. Whilst the Portas Project's are a great initiative to try to revive our High Streets, the programme producers have no interest in the real events. Real life is actually quite dull. Planning to regenerate a High Street will involve long dull meetings about planning permission, demographic spread and niche retail. That’s not going to sell advertising space. They’re after controversy, dispute and hopefully a few fist fights.
    Learn the lesson from Big Brother. The 1st series was an interesting piece of social science. How do people react when they’re put into a confined environment with others they don’t know? Since then it’s been filled with people who want to be famous but more importantly, who will fight with each other. 13 weeks, 14 freaks.
    The Portas Project will follow the same route if it’s allowed to become TV entertainment rather than a genuine attempt to rescue our Town Centres from Charity Stores and Mobile Phone shops.

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  • Its disgusting!
    The tv show will provide nothing but a 5 minute make over quick fix and then they'll leave the aftermath to us
    They upset an elite force that had sustainability at its core and that's what they wanted to fill their poor excuse for entertainment surely this format of tv has had its day
    I expect a few new benches a few new shops moved from elsewhere in the town and a lot of paint?!! Brilliant!!

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  • Hate to say I told you so, but what exactly did anyone expect from an initiative backed by a reality TV star and s shiny toothed politician?

    Mary might once have been a retail adviser worth her salt, and she still put some good ideas into her review, but essentially she's only got an eye on the next PR stunt these days. Who can blame her? That's how she makes her living.

    If the government was really serious about revitalising the high street they'd have brought in a panel of retail, property and local authority experts with an agenda that would have had some real political clout. Instead they asked a woman off the telly to run something up in her spare time.

    As it stands they've only cherry picked the PR friendly aspects of her report and focussed on what they think will make the best headlines for the least money and commitment.

    What is needed is lease reform, rates reform (this year they increased rates at twice the level of inflation) and proper control of large out of town shopping centres. Margate in particular has be devastated by a major mall and three large supermarkets all located out of town. You don't need to be a retail guru to work out where the problems lie.

    It's arguable that government policy specifically advantages these centres and disadvantages local towns. Almost as if politicians are more concerned about big investment than local jobs and livelihoods. Surely not!

    The Portas bandwagon is simply a smokescreen used to divert attention away from the almost total disregard from successive governments of the pressures being placed on ordinary retailers. It should be replaced as quickly as possible with realistic government policy, otherwise well meaning people are simply fighting a losing battle.

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  • I'v been retailing for 50yrs what does Mary Portas know? How many customers has she served? Its all about making good Tv and coping for her

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  • I wonder how Ms Portas has been able to select which towns are the lucky ones: Perhaps Royal towns would be able to apply for Royal funding, and perhaps - rather than thinking all of SE England is affluent, the reality could be unveiled, such as in Chesham, my home town in Buckinghamshire, there are 600 families that are dependent on our Food Bank: I would have thought that statistic was enough to warrant Portas revival money for this town. The rich/ poorest gap is enormous here, with so many families living well below the poverty line. Perhaps we can be considered in the next round of funding please?

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  • The media would have ya believe millions of shop owners are going bust due to incompetence. A smear tactic to cover the fact that unregulated predatory capitalism has allowed domination by a few. Corporate greed and control with Banks and cronies manipulating the whole of the retail sector.
    People look for 'bargains' due to limited resources and greed. They don't generally care about the people's lives affected as a result. Shopping on the Internet is an example that has contributed to the ruinous system of society breakdown.
    The horse has bolted and, thoses in positions of power care nothing for the fabric of society or high street shops.
    The Portas initiative is a pathetic plaster smoke screen on a cancer infested society that's nearl dead and, has no hope.
    It's all gonna lead to civil anarchy.

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  • This is TV world, and beware pride comes before a fall. As Jamie Cavey says: it's only a 5-minute makeover, so please Robin Vaughan-Lyons et al don't throw your toys out of the pram. Take a deep breath and get on with making your vision a reality.This is a valuable initiative for your area (we would have loved to be involved in Bermondsey's Blue but were not chosen by Southwark to represent the area), and if Margate is to benefit you and your town team have to be strong and determined. The TV oafs will come and go. I can assure you, from experience, they really won't harm your efforts, which, if successful, will be remembered for a very long time. The TV programme by contrast will disappear from public memory very quickly indeed. Whatever happened to the good old British stiff upper lip? But perhaps that's the story behind the decline of our High Streets!

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  • No surprise over the carryings on in Margate.
    Lets be realistic here, this is 2012. £100k to revitalise a high street in this, and other, towns? Please don't make me laugh. You will never succeed in rejuvenating any high street with £100k, after all the years of neglect and local council shortsightedness.
    Councils are not made up of people with any expertise in rejuvenation, or even of running a business, in many cases. Simple steps like rate incentives and grants would work wonders and it shouldnt take a TV show to be able to achieve that!

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  • I have commented on the Portas bandwagon before and most serious commentators had seen this kind of “seaside farce” coming even before the government led PR machine was put in place with her tax payer funded pocket money. She can’t be that intelligent, if she was, then she would have seen this coming or else she is only self serving individual who got sucked into her own hype after turning a few village stores with one man and his dog as customers with no parking to worry about. Whilst all the familiar problems are there for all to see in the high street including unrealistic high rents , rates, council parking as cash cows serving only the boys in the council offices who are supposed to be looking after the bigger picture.. In fact rest of the towns may not even have television to highlight the farce!!!. In line with previous comments, yes I agree if the government was serious then then they would have had experts in local planning, review of changing shopping habits, what do we want from our high streets as there is no going back would have been given a fair hearing. The internet, out of town over the top supply of grocery market, free parking etc etc has killed the high street.. We need to start with a clean sheet of paper and look at what else can be done to bring people back into the high street. Restaurants, local housing , cinemas, entertainment, sports etc . This will make the high street more vibrant and not just the “dead” place it has now become with “99p” shops competing with “£” lol lol …it’s not funny!. Portas has now lost credibility and her brand is not worthy of the PR money. PR gurus please make note.
    Arjan Mehr Londis Bracknell

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