By Daniel Hunter
The Government's response to the Mary Portas' Review includes positive steps but doesn't live up to her bigger ambition to revitalise our high streets.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says avoiding imposing an exceptional sign-off for out of town developments is the right approach and is also pleased with the money which has been made available to enable the development of Business Improvement Districts.
Other helpful moves to support town centre regeneration include the reduction of some red tape but the Government's plan lacks the bold vision which is needed to make a significant difference. It proposes projects with around £11.5 million of funding attached at a time when retailers are having to find an extra £350 million because of a 5.6 per cent rise in business rates.
The inflation figure used to decide the latest rates rise has since fallen to 3.7 per cent and the BRC is appalled yet another opportunity to order the badly needed review of the entire system appears to have been missed. The BRC also says Business Improvement Districts should have been given greater powers.
"We're waiting for the Government to share the full detail of its response since there is a difference between accepting recommendations and putting them into action," British Retail Consortium Director of Business, Tom Ironside, said.
"We were pleased with many of Mary Portas' findings, which set out a bold vision for the future of the high street, but we're concerned the Government hasn't yet matched her level of ambition with its response.
"There are some positives. We're pleased there are no indications the Government is intent on undermining consumer choice by penalising other shopping locations but nor is there much support for town centres. It's good to see extra funding to help Business Improvement Districts and to support councils in dealing with empty properties but this doesn't address the core challenges.
"Bolder moves which could've made a significant difference are missing, particularly in the light of the extra £350 million retailers will have to find because of this year's business rates rise.
"Our high streets are at the heart of our towns and cities and need championing. Retailers are doing their best to boost local high streets where they're able to, working with local authorities and other businesses, but an example needs to be set by central Government. This was an opportunity to revitalise our town centres for the 21st century but is in danger of becoming just another report on a dusty shelf."
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