Headlines: December 14th, 2011

Mary Portas has set out a vision for town centres and called for joint action to put the heart back into the centre of high streets.

The Review makes ambitious recommendations on what can be done by government, councils and business to help high streets deliver something new. The focus is on re-imagining the high streets as exciting social hubs for shopping, learning socialising and having fun.

The Review sets out recommendations to free up the high street from constraint, to level the playing field, to mobilise landlords and communities, and to address the ongoing management of town centres.

The recommendations aim to get town centres running like businesses: by strengthening the management of high streets through new ‘Town Teams’, developing the Business Improvement District model and encouraging new market. The basic right to allow businesses to flourish should be pursued by looking at how the business rate system could better support small businesses and independent retailers, encouraging affordable town centre car parking and looking at further opportunities to remove red tape on the high street.

The report also calls for a level the playing field by ensuring a strong town centre first approach in planning and encouraging large retailers to show their support for high streets. Landlord roles and responsibilities should be examined to remove disincentives for landlords so that properties are not left vacant. Councils should be empowered to step in when landlords are negligent. Communities should have a greater say by including the high street in neighbourhood planning and encouraging innovative community uses of empty high street spaces.

Mary Portas said: “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.”

She added: “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. I fundamentally believe that once we invest in and create social capital in the heart of our communities, the economic capital will follow. Those who see high streets purely in commercial terms need a reality check”.