Portas slams government over business rates
High street doyen accuses Coalition of ignoring her recommendations for reviving town centres
Despite copious publicity, the government has paid little more than lip service to attempts to rejuvenate struggling high streets, according to retail guru Mary Portas. Her 2011 review of commercial prospects in UK town centres recommended the use of new “town teams” to spot opportunities, affordable town centre car parking, a “town centre first” approach to planning and disincentives for landlords who leave shops empty. She also called for sweeping reforms of business rates.
In a BBC interview this week, Portas said: “Three years on, there is still a big job to be done. The government has made token gestures in response to my review – but much more needs to happen, and fast.”
She added: “Why are there still so many empty shops left deteriorating on our high streets? Local authorities should be granted the power to take control of these premises and use them creatively or commercially for the benefit of the community.
“Why are we still imposing crippling business rates that were established in Elizabethan times? The current system is out of date and favours online and big business. The Autumn Statement introduced some more rate relief measures, but these are just tinkering around the edges."
Unsatisfied with how the government has since responded to the study, Portas has now called for quicker action on “crippling” business rates – and for local councils to be given the power to take control of empty shops. While her views are backed by recent figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which showed there was a 1.4% reduction in the number of people visiting high Streets during October, the government has fought back – claiming it has spent millions on helping retailers.
Communities minister Penny Mordaunt said: “The new powers this government has given councils and communities … have revived high streets up and down the country. Mary Portas has helped raise the profile of British High Streets, and as she makes clear there are many tangible successes to be proud of. We’ve brought in a simpler planning process, with less red tape and tackled over-zealous parking to help town centres thrive. And our business-rate relief for many small shops has provided £1bn worth of support.”
Since the retail doyen’s original review, the government has invested in 27 UK high street areas known as “Portas Pilot Towns”. Portas herself claims they are showing great results with “really thriving” markets, and stressed that politicians and legislators must now prioritise town regeneration over out-of-town planning.
“Rotherham and Market Rasen or Deal and Sherbourne –with or without government funding – are turning their high streets around and getting on with it,” she said. “Their dedication has made the place they live, work, socialise and shop a place they can cherish and be proud of. And I am proud to have been part of this worthy effort with them.”
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