The Portas Review: Can Mary save our high streets?

on Tuesday, 13 December 2011. Posted in N21 Business Blog



Mary Portas published her future of the high street report today, (13.12.11), with a vision of "breathing economic and community life back into our high streets". This isn't the first report on the demise/future of the high street, but she is someone with charisma and clout, who has the ear of the Prime Minister, as well as public respect.


The report isn't revolutionary but contains actionable suggestions, for the government, local authorities, as well as retailers, not forgetting us - the people who live in local areas. The importance of vibrant high streets in sustaining local communties is central to the report.


However, she acknowledges that saving the high street is a major challenge, requiring buy-in from the Governement and consumers alike. We are paying the price for "convenience over community" and for the three decades in which successive governments have allowed the major chains and property investors to create identkit concrete sheds on the edge of every town, sapping the vitality of our high streets and local shopping parades.


Portas argues that urgent acton must be taken not just to protect the livelihoods of people who work in retailing, but the communities in which they are stuated. "a pound spent in a retailer with a localised supply chain that employs local people has far greater domestic economic impact than a pound spent in a supermarket or national chain".


Creating a more supportive business environment

The report argues that the onus must now be on the Government and local authorities to work together to create "a more flexible, attractive business environment" for local businesses, before the recession and the relentless onslaught of online retailers put the final nail in the coffin of the local high street.

She is calling for reducing the red tape that mires so many independent retailers in particular and urgent legislative changes which will support rather than damage local high street businesses. She urges the Goverment to grant business rate concessions for new businesses; more control over landlords and more free short term parking to enable more people to use independent retailers. Portas sees business rates as key, especially for new businesses, " we need to proactively develop new players and our future entrepreneurs. These are the brands and wealth creators of the future". After all even Marks & Spencers started as a market stall.


Consultation and collaboration


Portas calls for more coordinated planning and collaboration, with the creation "Town Teams" to more actively manage local areas.  She uses cases studies of innovative projects from around the country and abroad of successful high street regeneration projects, which could be adopted elsewhere and collaboration was a theme across all of them.


Creativity and social experiences are key to successful regeneration


High streets and shopping parades must offer people products and experiences that they can't easily get elsewhere and she argues that high streets must become more diverse offering a far wider range of goods and services than they currently do. In her "High streets of the future" she places a high priority on places where people can meet:


"I believe that our high streets are a really important part of building communities and pulling people together in a way that a supermarket or shopping mall, however convenient, however entertaining and however slick, just never can. They should become places where we go to engage with other people in our communities, where shopping is just one small part of a rich mix of activities".


This can only be achieved if the Government and local authorities "address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street"


We have too many shops in the UK, although the recession and the scaling back of store numbers by many multiple chains who have a strong online presence is likely to create more empty shops. She proposes a new “Empty Shop Management Order” to allow vacant properties to be used by new businesses and local groups and as well as work shops for small business owners.

Changing shopper behaviour won't be easy


However, for these visions to come to fruition, they must win over the local population, who will have to incentivised to change their habits and start to use their local high streets again.


"People are passionate about high streets. What we need to do is turn that passion into action. We need to put the heart back into our high streets and inspire that connection between local people and their ‘home town’. Town centres exist to serve their communities’ needs. So local people should have more say in what they want from them. But we risk this falling flat on its face if communities are not inspired and identify with and most importantly use their high street"

Creating community portals


She is favour of using the Internet to reengage people with their local areas 


"Today we all live online too. I would like Town Teams to create an online ‘bottom up’ virtual version of their high street which is the easy automatic ‘go to’ for all things to do with your local area. We could use online tools and software to get people thinking and talking about their high street, not as a ‘council of despair’ but to contribute in a positive way. The Virtual High Street would show you all offers, across all shops and businesses, with a "My Town Loyalty Card" In addition, the Virtual High Street creates a powerful social forum for people to share and discuss. There’s real potential in finding who lives locally and what skills they can offer to their town".

- Its been invented Mary, its called

You can read a summary of the 28 recommendations here and download a copy of the report using this link.

The Government has said that it will respond to the report by the Spring and only then will we find out if the cash strapped governement and local authorities will be prepared to sacrfice short term income from business rates and parking fees etc, to kickstart proper high street regeneration.


In summary "High streets must be ready to experiment, try new things, take risks and become destinations again. They need to be spaces and places that people want to be in. High streets of the future must be a hub of the community that local people are proud of and want to protect".

A must read for Enfield Council, EBRA, (Enfield Business & Retailers Association) our councillors, regeneration teams and of course local people.




Mary Portas published her future of the high street report today, (13.12.11), with a vision of "breathing economic and community life back into our high streets". This isn't the first report on the demise/future of the high street, but she is someone with charisma and clout, who has the ear of the Prime Minister, as well as public respect.

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