High street at 'crisis point' says Mary Portas

Mary Portas

Britain's high street is dying out after failing to adapt and meet consumer needs, says retail expert Mary Portas.

In her independent review of the UK high street, Portas says while some are "thriving", the majority of them "have a fight on their hands".

"Many [high streets] are sickly, others are on the critical list and some are now dead," she adds. 

Town centre vacancy rates have doubled over the last two years and nearly one in six shops now stands vacant, according to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Consumer spending at the high street is now under 50%, according to the BIS.

The popularity of online and even mobile shopping – as well as out of town shopping malls and big supermarkets have contributed to the fall in high street activity.

Call to action

Presenting the findings of her seven-month review today, Portas has drawn up 28 recommendations that she believes will help rejuvenate the country's high streets.

"We cannot and should not attempt to save every high street but my findings have led me to believe that unless urgent action is taken, the casualties will only continue to multiply," says Portas.

Portas says it is "entirely natural" to bemoan the common problems that high street traders face, such as parking restrictions and competition from supermarkets – but her review aims to "inspire people to seize the opportunity to innovate and embrace the change that's necessary".

Her recommendations include introducing a 'National Market Day' to encourage smaller traders to sell their wares at indoor and outdoor markets, as well as putting in place 'Town Teams'. These would include key landlords, large and small shopkeepers, members of the local council, and local residents meeting together to strategise and work together on creating new visions for their towns' high streets.

Current legislation awards most decision-making power and financial involvement to the retailers, but this should be changed to give landlords a voice and the opportunity to contribute financially to their business improvement district (BIS), says Portas.

This proposal has been particularly welcomed by the British Property Federation (BPF).

"We are delighted to see Mary recommending greater landlord involvement in BIDs, and also suggesting how they can be further enhanced with new powers, such as on planning," says BPF chief executive Liz Peace.

Portas also wants to see larger retailers mentor smaller shops and traders.

She also suggests free controlled parking schemes should be introduced by local authorities, alongside a new parking league table. "To go head to head with the out-of-town offering, high streets need to have a more flexible, well communicated parking offer," she says.

David Cameron 'delighted'

Prime Minister David Cameron, who together with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg commissioned Portas to carry out the review, says he is "delighted that Mary Portas has produced such a clear vision of how we can create vibrant and diverse town centres and breathe life back into our high streets".

"The high street should be at the very heart of every community, bringing people together, providing essential services and creating jobs and investment; so it is vital that we do all that we can to ensure they thrive," adds Cameron.

The government will review the recommendation and publish its response in spring 2012.


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