Grant Shapps offers 'Portas-Plus' plan to revive ailing high streets

Published on Friday, 30 March 2012 12:49
Posted by Scott Buckler

Towns across the country have got their applications in ahead of today's deadline in the hope of becoming Portas Pilots. Ministers revealed the unexpectedly high level of interest whilst announcing that the Government is accepting virtually all the recommendations put forward by Mary Portas last December

The Government today is for the first time issuing its formal response to the Portas High Street Review. Grant Shapps confirmed Ministers are accepting the vast majority of Mary's recommendations - but that they intend to go further with a raft of new incentives, funding schemes and bureaucracy-busting measures, all in a bid to rejuvenate the country's rundown high streets.

In what Mr Shapps referred to as a 'Portas-Plus' response, a new package of help has been drawn up including:

  •     A multi-million pound High Street Innovation Fund - kick started by £10 million of taxpayers money focussed on bringing empty shops back into use - which, if supplemented by both councils and landlords, could see £30 million going to support new business start-ups whilst bringing empty High Street properties back into use;

  •     A £1 million Future High Street X-Fund, which will be awarded in a year's time to the locations which deliver the most creative and effective schemes to revitalise their high streets;

  •     A National Markets Day, launching a National Markets Fortnight, to celebrate the role markets can play, help aspiring entrepreneurs try out their business ideas, and encourage more visitors to town centres;

  •     A £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts, to help Town Centres access loans for their set-up costs; and

  •     Launching a further round of Portas Pilots, to trial some of Mary's recommendations and come up with new ideas to breathe life into underused high streets. This is in response to the massive interest from hundreds of locations across the country, sparked by the competition for the first wave of 12 pilots launched last month.

Grant Shapps said:

    "Today, I'm accepting virtually all of the recommendations from Mary Portas's review - but I'm also going that one step further, offering a 'Portas-Plus' deal, with a range of measures designed to help local people turn their high streets into the beating hearts of their communities once again.

    "Mary Portas's 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."

Mary Portas said:

    "When I published my Review I was clear that this was an action plan for our high streets, not a document to gather dust on Whitehall shelves.

    "I've been thrilled by the response of people, Town Teams and communities up and down the country, who have seized this opportunity to come together and form their own ideas. I'm pleased that the response from Grant Shapps today is designed to build on this momentum and give local people the tools they need to turn their creative ideas into reality, along with extra money to bring empty shops back into use.

    "Naturally I would have liked greater central intervention in critical areas such as change of use, parking, business rates and the sign off of new out of town developments and I will continue to fight for these, but I do believe that today marks the first day of a fresh new approach, putting our high streets firmly back on the public and national agenda."

Martin Blackwell, chief executive at the Association of Town Centre Management, said:

    "We all recognise that the high street in 10 or even five years will be radically different to that we see today. This Government's approach, shown in the response to Mary's report, is giving local communities the opportunity to shape the future High Street they want to see in their town."

Responding to the first recommendation in the review, Mr Shapps said he wanted to see hundreds of Town Teams - made up of key players in the local area including the council, local landlords, business owners and local MPs - being formed and mobilised across the country to drive forward the necessary change.

He encouraged these Town Teams to consider:

  •     How their high streets can become the "beating heart of the community", offering more than just retail with entertainment venues and leisure facilities, as well as housing and local public services;

  •     How they can work with councils to use the forthcoming new powers to offer local business rate discounts, and to ensure businesses are aware of the option to spread the payment of the retail price index increase in business rates bills over three years, giving them the flexibility to manage their bills and help their cash- flow. This is in addition to Small Business Rate Relief, which in England has been doubled for two and a half years, from 1 October 2010 to 31 March 2013;

  •     How they could stimulate a vibrant evening economy by encouraging local shops to open later, offering a service to people as they come home from work, instead of people resorting to online shopping; and

  •     How they could make more imaginative and exciting use of public spaces and remove street clutter to make town centres more pleasant for visitors.

And confirming the Government was accepting a number of other key recommendations to cut red tape and entice motorists to the town centre, Mr Shapps gave a commitment to:

  •     Help councils revoke unnecessary and archaic byelaws through a new streamlined process - enabling  outdated rules hindering efforts to get new markets and businesses up and running to be swiftly scrapped;

  •     Reform current planning rules to allow the conversion of space above shops to two flats, rather than the current limit of one; and

  •     Consult on abolishing centrally-set minimum parking charges, to give councils the flexibility to levy lower parking penalty notices if they choose. The Government will also take steps to ensure greater transparency on parking charges to introduce greater competition between town centres.
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