Retail expert Mary Portas has launched a competition with Local Government Minister Grant Shapps for towns to pitch a plan for transforming their high street with a chance to win a share of £1m to help their plan along.
Twelve 'Portas Pilots' will be chosen in the latest stage of the Government plans to tackle ailing community high streets following The Portas Review of reccomendations for UK high streets published by the retail guru before Christmas.
The Portas Review
Welcoming the launch of the competition Mary Portas said there was now an opportunity to turn her recommendations, which included free controlled parking schemes in some areas and empowering Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), into reality.
"I hope my review has inspired people with another vision of tomorrow where our high streets are re-imagined as destinations for socializing, culture, well being, learning as well as shopping. I want the first 12 town teams to challenge the old ways of working, experiment, take risks and reaffirm their place at the heart of a community. A place we all want to be and can be proud of," she said.
Although the Portas Pilots have been largely welcomed, Kate Nicholls, strategic affairs director for the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), told BigHospitality more importance needed to be placed on the role that restaurants and bars could play in the local authority bids.
"I don't think they are being forgotten but I don't think that they are attracting anywhere near the importance that they need to when it comes to delivering a vital and vibrant town centre and a healthy high street so I still think despite our best efforts they are in danger of being overlooked in the rush to put in place other elements," she said
Use Classes Orders
Martin Blackwell, chief executive of the Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM), agreed that the hospitality sector had occasionally not been judged with the same concern as other aspects of the high street, despite the importance of the industry.
"One of the areas which needs to be looked at in the pilots is the role of the night time economy, which is worth £66bn to the economy and employs 1.2m people. This aspect of town centre life wasn’t really addressed by the Portas review, but is something which pilots should be looking at," he said.
In her review, Portas also pointed out the need to address aspects of 'use classes orders' which segmented the 'class type' for a hospitality building into bars, restaurants and cafés rather than one general hospitality 'class type' for all three.
A spokesperson for the British Hospitality Association (BHA), who contributed to the original review, said this current planning regime was making it harder to convert shops to restaurants or allow pubs or cafés to switch their 'class type' even though food outlets had a big role to play on the high street.
Nicholls denied that this sort of change or more restaurants and pubs as part of a town's Portas Pilot entry would lead to a high street of hospitality businesses and no shops as there were controls in place. However she said it must be remembered the hospitality industry also contributed to the daytime economy and it would be pointless to have shops without places for people to stop and eat or drink.
"The best high streets emulate the shopping centres and the out of town malls. You can't compete with them, we're never going to turn the clock back and get rid of them so we have to offer what they offer which is a one-stop shop and licensed hospitality is a key component of that," she said.
Nicholls also urged local authorities, chambers of commerce and BIDs and other stakeholders to work closely with hospitality operators in any entry to the Portas Pilot scheme.
Portas Pilots Invitation
Local partnerships have until 30 March to apply to become a Portas Pilot by filling out a form available online and making a video pitch. Details are online and in this video message from Local Government Minister Grant Shapps: