The government has rubberstamped “virtually all” of the 28 recommendations put forward by retail guru Mary Portas to revitalise the UK’s ailing high streets.
Approved measures include the creation of “town teams” tasked with managing high streets, the establishment of a national market day on 23 June and a relaxation of planning laws allowing empty shops to be more easily converted into crèches and gyms. The government has also approved a £10m innovation fund to bring some of the nation’s 48,000 vacant shops back to life.
On announcing the news, housing and local government minister Grant Shapps said he had gone one step further than the original recommendations and pushed through 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 report has provided the catalyst for change that many towns have been craving,” added Shapps. “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.”
While the announcement has been broadly welcomed by the industry, some commentators expressed dismay that Recommendation 15 of the Portas Review, which includes an “exceptional sign-off” for new out-of-town developments and requires all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota, appears to have been overlooked.
On Twitter, ACS CEO James Lowman commented: “Govt appear to have ignored it. Most important part of the report not implemented.”
Portas said she was thrilled so many of her recommendations had been given the green light, but admitted she was disappointed the government hadn’t gone the whole hog.
“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 today marks the first day of a fresh approach putting our high streets firmly back on the public and national agenda,” said Portas.
This morning’s announcement coincides with the deadline for town centres who want to apply to win £100,000 in funding to test Portas’s ideas in a series of pilot schemes throughout the country. By 7am today the government had received more than 100 applications from towns looking to take part in the pilot schemes.