Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ was asked by the Prime Minister to conduct an independent review into the state of the high street, and presented her findings last December. Government has today responded, with high street failure showing no sign of abating.
Amongst the key recommendations are:
- A multi-million pound High Street Innovation Fund – kick started by £10m of taxpayers’ money focussed on bringing empty shops back into use – which, if supplemented by both councils and landlords, could see £30 million going to support new business start-ups whilst bringing empty high street properties back into use;
- A £1m Future High-Street X-Fund, which will be awarded to the locations which deliver the most creative and effective schemes to revitalise the high streets in a year’s time;
- A £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts, to help town centres access loans for their set-up costs; and
- Launching a further round of Portas Pilots, to trial some of Mary’s recommendations and come up with new ideas to breath life into underused high streets. This is in response to the massive interest from hundreds of locations across the country sparked by the first wave of 12 pilots launched last month.
Much to the relief to the property industry it was also confirmed that out of town retail development will not automatically be subject to Secretary of State sign off nor will the Government support an affordable shops quota.
Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said “Today’s response should not be seen as the end of the process, but the start of one – a call to arms for anyone who cares about our high streets. Government help on funding and policy is welcome, but ultimately if we want our high streets to thrive a clear local-driven vision is required. By strengthening BIDs, introducing Town Teams, and also business neighbourhood planning, there has never been a better time for those who care about our high streets to get involved.”
A number of campaigning issues, which the British Property Federation has led or been involved in, also feature in the Government’s response:
- Formalising landlord involvement in BIDs via a vote and levy.
- Review the use of the annual RPI uplift for business rates.
- Being more flexible in allowing the conversion of space above shops into flats.
- Restoring other uses, such as offices, into the Town Centre First policy as the NPPF now states.
- New ways of promoting the ‘Leasing Business Premises’ code.
The introduction and promotion of Business Neighbourhood Planning.
Commenting, Liz Peace said “I meet landlords on a weekly basis who are as passionate about the shopping experience they provide as the retailers who occupy their premises. Hopefully, through our own actions, we have shown that landlords are active and interested partners on our high streets. Our high streets need investment and one of the recommendations that I hope will now be taken forward with haste is to investigate how we can formalise landlord involvement in BIDs.
“We also look forward to progressing the recommendation on promoting the lease code. This presents a great opportunity, not only to promote responsible leasing, but also to bring to greater prominence what our industry does, which is to make space for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. I am particularly grateful to have Rightmove on board, who can provide a new way for us to get lease code information to that small end of the market that is always so difficult to crack.”
Dr Neil Bentley, CBI Deputy Director-General, said “Mary Portas identified many challenges that our high streets are facing up and down the country, and it is good news that the Government has decided to take up many of her policy recommendations.”
“The increase in internet and out-of-town shopping has brought benefits to consumers, as the Government has recognised, but this also means that high streets must offer something different and innovative to ensure they can remain vibrant and successful pillars of our community.”