Portas Review of the high street

Retailer Mary Portas was commissioned by the Government to  to conduct an independent review into the state of  our high streets and town centres. Her report was published in December 2011. There are a number of ‘Portas Pilot’ projects underway, but they appear to have had limited impact.

In practice this is because  the report simply recycled a lot of previous proposals made over the years, containing nothing that was particularly new or innovative. That doesn’t make them wrong of course and the government appears to still support the proposals, although central funding is limited. It is important therefore to take a critical look at the recommendations and see how the thinking they represent might have an impact on Devizes.

I intend to take a critical look at all the 28 recommendations in the report, but to keep the post length manageable I will do that over a series of posts.

Before then a brief comment on the report overall. It is of course full of good intentions, but equally it is couched in the same jargonistic policy language as many such reports over the last 25 years from all parties. For example:

I want to see high streets where localism really delivers integrated action from all the relevant stakeholders. Local authorities, landlords, retailers and the public working together to really animate the spaces they occupy, creating and nurturing their own unique place. Local people as co-creators and not simply consumers. Councils as managers and enablers. Landlords as long-term investors. Businesses as stakeholders.

There are many unstated assumptions.

  • What is ‘localism’?
  • What is ‘integrated action’?
  • Who decides when a stakeholder is ‘relevant’?
  • What is meant by ‘animation’ Or ‘co-creation’?

I’ll pick up some of these questions – and no doubt others – as I work through the recommendations in more detail.

The recommendations
  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 business
  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
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