In May, with town centre vacancy rates doubling in the space of two years, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister asked Queen of Shops Mary Portas to look into how we can create more prosperous and diverse high streets.
“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,” says Portas.
“Our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting and social places that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community. Something which, as the recent riots clearly demonstrated, has been eroded and in some instances eradicated. Once we invest in and create social capital in the heart of our communities, the economic capital will follow.”
The review sets out Portas’s 28 key recommendations for Britain’s high streets – but she warns that high streets must be “ready to experiment, try new things and take risks” for this to work.
- Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets.
- Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become “Super-BIDs”.
- Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to their Business Improvement District.
- Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business.
- 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.
- Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers.
- Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses.
- Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI.
- Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table.
- Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe.
- Government should include high street deregulation as part of their ongoing work on freeing up red tape.
- Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street.
- Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own.
- Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework.
- 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.
- Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers.
- Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report.
- 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.
- Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant.
- Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them.
- Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space.
- Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop Management Orders”.
- Introduce a public register of high street landlords.
- Run a high-profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans.
- Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans.
- Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system.
- Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right to Try”.
- Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept.
“Mary has got this spot on,” comments British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace. “We need to be far smarter about the shape of our high streets. They need to be inclusive places that through other uses encourage footfall for shops. Doctors, dentists, offices, leisure and other community uses all have a part of play. Mary is also right that some secondary retail areas are too far gone to resurrect and for the sake of the core shopping area and housing need conversion to residential use should be encouraged.”
Read the full review here. Do you agree with Mary Portas’s 28-point plan? Post your comments below.
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