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Mary Portas Warns of High Street ‘Crisis’

14th December 2011

Retail expert Mary Portas has warned that many UK High Streets may be lost after years of “erosion, neglect and mismanagement”, unless shops and councils work together to regenerate them.

“Many [high streets] are sickly, others are on the critical list and some are now dead,” Portas says in her long-awaited review into the future of Britain’s high streets, which was commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron.

The report sets out around 30 recommendations to halt the decline of town centres.
Portas has appeared on news channels suggesting cutting regulations for High Street traders and planning for a national market day.

"There are 28 recommendations," Portas told the BBC.

"The model of the High Street is so outdated. It is working in the same way that it did in the 1960s, but the 1960s are no longer here."

Portas came up with an idea for a national market day aimed at promoting indoor or outdoor markets and helping drive traffic towards shops.

Portas has said that town centres had "too many shops" which were not attracting customers and said that, instead, they should become "multi-functional social as well as shopping areas".

She said the first priority was to draw large numbers of people to town centres - with things like gyms and creches. She added that new businesses needed to be given tax breaks because they could not afford to base themselves on Britain's high streets.

Portas warned that unless “urgent action” is taken, “much of Britain will lose, irretrievably, something that is fundamental to our society”.

Vacancy rates in market towns have doubled in the last two years as stores have closed down due to the economic downturn. One in seven shops on UK high streets currently stand empty, although in some towns as many as four in ten shops are vacant.

Portas will put in place pilot schemes in various towns across the UK so that her “vision” can be tested.

“I believe that our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting and social places that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community. A sense of belonging which, as the recent riots demonstrated, has been eroded and in some instances eradicated,” says Portas.

Her recommendations include increasing the cost of out-of-town parking to encourage shoppers back into town centres. She is also expected to suggest an easing of the restrictions on night-time deliveries to town-centre shops and market stalls in order to create a more flexible and attractive business environment.

When he commissioned the report David Cameron said that he hoped it would “create vibrant and diverse town centres and bring back the bustle to our high streets”.

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