The Portas Review, originally published in December last year, contained a number of ideas from the retail guru and television presenter to help ailing high streets where vacancy rates have continued to rise.
Among the proposals were plans to give more power to BIDs, ideas on making it easier to work within the 'Use Class' system and implementing free controlled parking schemes in some areas. At the time of publication it was hoped the recommendations, if adopted, could lead to an increase in consumers visiting town centre pubs and restaurants and could make it easier for operators to expand and open new sites.
Today the Government published its official response to the review and announced it was accepting the vast majority of the proposals. The Minister of State for Communities and Local Government, Grant Shapps, also said they planned to go further - dubbing the announcement a 'Portas-Plus' response.
"Mary Portas' review made crystal clear the stark challenge our high streets face. With internet shopping and out of town centres here to stay, they must offer something new if they are to entice visitors back. Her report has provided the catalyst for change that many towns have been craving. I now want to see people coming together to form their own town teams and turning their creative ideas into reality to ensure their high streets thrive long into the future," he said.
Among the announcements it was confirmed the Government was:
- Setting up a High Street Innovation Fund to support new business start-ups and bring empty high street properties back into use
- Establishing a £500k fund for Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)
- Launching a further round of Portas Pilots, pilot towns which may get financial help if they pitch a successful town plan. The deadline for the first round of applications from towns and cities was today.
- Reforming planning laws and help councils abolish restrictive byelaws
- Consulting on abolishing centrally set minimum parking charges
Portas herself has welcomed the response but said she would have liked to have seen greater Government support in her change of use, business rates and parking proposals.
The retail adviser also said she would have welcomed more central intervention in the sign-off on out of town shopping centres. Earlier this month BigHospitality reported shopping centres were increasingly becoming the venue of choice for restaurant concepts looking to expand.
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has led reaction from the pub industry and has welcomed the support for BIDs which Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the BBPA, said had helped licensees and the police work together to improve the atmosphere in town centres.
“There are now over 100 BIDs, which shows this works. In Nottingham, which led the way, we’ve seen money raised by the levy-payers themselves, to fund taxi marshals at weekends, street ambassadors, the part part-funding of an annual food and drink festival, clean-up campaigns and other initiatives," she said.
Kate Nicholls, strategic affairs director of the Association of Multiple Licensed Retailers (ALMR), also welcomed the recognition that pubs, bars and casual dining establishments were an asset to the high street but also sounded a word of caution.
"We are slightly surprised, however, to see Grant Shapps’ statement that there is a ‘no go zone’ between the time shops close and pubs open. Pubs and bars are a key part of the daytime economy – from breakfast and morning coffee to afternoon tea and after work drinks – they already bridge that gap," she said.