After a six month review requested by the Government, retail guru, Mary Portas has published her report analysing the UK’s high streets, along with 28 recommendations for breathing new life into town centres and helping independent stores survive.
During her review, Portas consulted with various retailers, councils and trade bodies in order to identify ways that the country’s high streets can prosper, despite the increasing popularity in online shopping and people having to further tighten their belts in the face of another potential recession. According to her, our town centres have reached 'crisis point' and in order to save our high streets, we must act now.
A key point made was that shops must become more diverse; perhaps because independent retailers simply cannot compete with the prices big name stores and supermarkets can offer.
A recent post from Mary Portas’ website stated that she would love to put the heart back into the centre of Britain’s high streets, transforming them into mixed use destinations. She stressed that the ‘traditional’ high street with the baker, grocer and butcher would probably never return. However, by creating a centre that does more than just sell goods, but also offers locals places for socialising, health and wellbeing, culture, creativity and learning, communities can engage, thrive and grow. Shopping would become just a part of this mix of activities.
As Mary Portas explains: "I don’t want to live in a Britain that doesn’t care about community. And I believe that our high streets are a really important part of pulling people together in a way that a supermarket or shopping mall, however convenient, however entertaining and however slick, just never can."
Mary Portas has 28 recommendations for a better, brighter town centre:
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
Mary Portas' comments and suggestions should be particularly interesting to Haverhill residents and retailers, especially with the recent news that a £40,000 initiative has been launched with the aim of improving Haverhill's town centre.
A week-long survey was conducted at the end of November, with shoppers sharing their thoughts on their 'wish list' for the town.