By Daniel Hunter

High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis and retail expert Mary Portas visited Rotherham high street in Yorkshire this week to see first hand how it went from struggling to thriving in only 2 years.

The once challenged town centre has been rejuvenated and become a leading example of what can be achieved by a Portas Pilot and £100,000 of government funding.

Rotherham is showing how high streets can adapt to changing consumer behaviour and become social places which offer something that the internet cannot.

Brandon Lewis said: "Rotherham is a prime example of how a struggling town centre can be turned around into a success story, and in the last 3 years 86 new businesses have opened their doors in the high street.

"The town has grabbed the opportunities offered to it and is a great example of how our high streets can become shopping destinations that serve the whole community. It’s an example to other town centres around the country."

Mary Portas said: "I’m bursting with pride at everything that’s been achieved in Rotherham. The town team have done an extraordinary job increasing footfall and reducing vacancy rates but most of all producing a place people want to shop in and feel at home in.

"They have huge competition from some of the UK’s biggest shopping malls right on the doorstep but they are bearing out the national statistics that people prefer high streets."

Like many high streets the 2008 economic downturn forced a number of shops to close in Rotherham with long-term vacant units on some prime shopping streets but its 5 year strategy is redefining the town centre.

Rotherham has reopened 86 new shops, reduced the number of boarded up shops and signed up 100 shops to their local loyalty card scheme increasing footfall and shopper satisfaction. Over 16,000 Rotherham residents have registered for a card.

Along with visiting new independent businesses now operating on the high street, the minister opened the Makers Emporium, a project offering 3,000 sq ft of retail space on a temporary basis to more than 30 local entrepreneurs, and designers launch their products and test the market.

The government is putting in place a wide range of measures to help high streets and has funded 24 Portas Pilots and 330 town teams to support them as they adapt to changing customer behaviour. It is providing:

Support for local shops and high streets

A billion pound package of support for the UK’s high streets was recently announced which includes changes to business rates which provides a £1,000 discount for retail premises including shops, pubs, cafes, and restaurants; caps the increase in bills to 2% - businesses were expecting a 3.2% rise; extends the doubling of the Small Business Rates Relief; and allows businesses to pay their bills over 12 months (rather than 10), which will help every firm with their cash flow.

Easier parking to help town centres

Independent experts have warned that aggressive parking policies are harming local high streets and local shops. We are getting rid of aggressive parking policies by changing the previous approach of setting parking fees to discourage car use and provide ‘maximum’ parking levels.

We’ve also changed planning rules to allow councils to make decisions about parking requirements and fees to better meet local needs. The government wants councils to attract shoppers by setting competitive parking charges, and to improve the quality of parking in town centres so that it is convenient, safe and secure.

Putting local leadership first

Councils and businesses and those who work on the ground are best placed to know what could make their high street thrive and the government is backing community led-renewal and business improvement districts to help re-energize town centres.

Supporting local markets

The government has teamed up with the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) to set up the Love Your Local Market Campaign. This is helping new market traders starting up businesses, and celebrates and promotes our local markets.

In 2013 700 markets took part in 3,500 events during the campaign fortnight with 2,800 new traders taking part. This year’s Love Your Local Market campaign will be held from 14 to 28 May 2014.

Ensuring better use of buildings

Planning restrictions have been lifted to help landlords make better use of their empty properties so they can lease them for shorter periods, helping start-up businesses to set up in the high street, and by making it easier to turn commercial properties into homes to increase local footfall. The changes give town centres the flexibility they need to adapt existing buildings to new shops, homes and businesses.

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