By Marcus Leach
John Hayes visited Leeds yesterday (Tuesday) to see what Mary Portas’ vision for the High Street will mean for the area.
Mary Portas published her review of the future of our high streets on Tuesday, which sets out her vision to breathe economic and community life back into our high streets.
“Leeds City centre is exactly the sort of area that we were thinking of when the Prime Minister asked Mary to launch her review. Mary’s review has set out a number of recommendations that could make a real difference to areas like Leeds and the Government is already looking at what it can do to make these recommendations a reality,” John Hayes said.
The Review makes ambitious recommendations on what can be done — by government, local authorities and business — to help high streets deliver something new.
The focus is on putting the heart back into the centre of our high streets, re-imagined as exciting social hubs for shopping, learning socialising and having fun.
In May, with town centre vacancy rates doubling in the space of two years, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister asked Mary to look into how we can create more prosperous and diverse high streets.
The Review sets out Mary’s recommendations to free up the high street from constraint, to level the playing field, to mobilise landlords and communities, and to address the ongoing management of our town centres.
The recommendations aim to:
· Get town centres running like businesses: by strengthening the management of high streets through new ‘Town Teams’, developing the Business Improvement District model and encouraging new markets;
· Get the basics right to allow businesses to flourish: by looking at how the business rate system could better support small businesses and independent retailers, encouraging affordable town centre car parking and looking at further opportunities to remove red tape on the high street;
· Level the playing field: by ensuring a strong town centre first approach in planning and encouraging large retailers to show their support for high streets;
· Define landlords’ roles and responsibilities: by looking at disincentives for landlords leaving properties vacant and empowering local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent; and
· Give communities a greater say: by greater inclusion of the high street in neighbourhood planning and encouraging innovative community uses of empty high street spaces.
Mary also recommends that her suggestions are tried out in a number of High Street pilots.
“I don’t want to live in a Britain that doesn’t care about community. And I believe that our high streets are a really important part of pulling people together in a way that a supermarket or shopping mall, however convenient, however entertaining and however slick, just never can," Mary Portas said.
“Our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting and social places that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community. Something which, as the recent riots clearly demonstrated, has been eroded and in some instances eradicated.
“I fundamentally believe that once we invest in and create social capital in the heart of our communities, the economic capital will follow.
“Those who see high streets purely in commercial terms need a reality check, because, without the engagement and collaboration of local people many high streets will die and retailers, landlords and local authorities alike will see their investment wasted.
“This review sets out what I think has led to the decline of our high streets, my vision of the future and the key things I believe we need to put in place to deliver that vision.
"I hope that my recommendations can be a catalyst for change but high streets must be ready to experiment, try new things, take risks and become destinations again.
“Local authorities, landlords, retailers and the public work need to work together to really animate the spaces they occupy; re-imagined as destinations for retail, socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning.”
The report is published alongside new Government commissioned research, ‘Understanding High Street Performance’, which shows that: although some high streets continue to thrive, a third are degenerating or failing; by 2014 less than 40% of retail spending will be on the high street; and that over the last decade out of town retail floorspace has risen by 30% while in town has shrunk by 14%.
The Government will respond to the recommendations in the spring.
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