The independent review of the future of the high street, compiled by Portas for the Government, suggests a number of ways to bring life back to ailing town centres where vacancy rates have increased two fold in the past two years.
In her report, some of the things Portas recommends include:
- Empowering successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become ‘Super-BIDs’
- Legislating to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to their Business Improvement District
- Implementing free controlled parking schemes in some local areas
- Addressing the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street
- Encouraging 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
- Empowering local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new ‘Empty Shop Management Orders’
Earlier this year, restaurant operators called on the British Hospitality Association (BHA), which itself contributed to the review, to lobby the Government over planning laws which currently make it difficult to change the use of existing units from retail to restaurant use.
A survey by Allegra found that 56 per cent of restaurant operators were finding it difficult to find suitable sites despite many high streets hosting empty retail units which could be transformed into restaurants if a change of use was permitted.
Help for pubs
The news was also welcomed by the pub sector.
Responding to the report, British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds, said: “There are some good ideas that would help pubs – we certainly need action on punitive business rates, and a more flexible planning system to help pubs to be part of a high street revival. I am pleased to see an enhanced role proposed for Business Improvement Districts, something we have championed at the BBPA.
“We need more flexibility in the Use Class Orders, looking at amalgamating the leisure classes and greater flexibility between C1 (Hotels) and C3 (Dwelling Houses).
“I hope the Government responds positively to these proposals, as Mary Portas deserves to succeed in putting the high street higher up the political agenda.”
The Federation of Small Businesses also welcomed Portas’ views on parking, business rates and its ‘town centre first’ policy.
National chairman John Walker said: “The lack of affordable town centre parking is driving trade away from the high street to out of town retail sites. In a recent survey of FSB members, 50 per cent said that the availability of parking had a detrimental effect on their business."