By Marcus Leach

‘We welcome the central thrust of Mary Portas’ recommendations for the high street — that they respond to changing customer demands – but we’re concerned a couple of proposals are at odds with this and have the potential to make development more difficult.’

This is the view of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) following the publication of The Portas Review today (Tuesday).

The BRC said it had judged the 28 recommendations made by Mary Portas on whether they support customer choice, support town centres and avoid imposing costs on retailers over which they have no say.

BRC Director General Stephen Robertson said the sentiment, and many of the proposals, are in line with the BRC’s own high streets rescue plan 21st Century High Streets.

“We absolutely agree that high streets make a unique contribution to local neighbourhoods and economies, providing jobs and services and building a sense of community,” he said.

“We’re delighted that Mary Portas recognises that town centres need to evolve as quickly as customer demands change if they’re to remain relevant.

“The report sets out some practical ways to address problems faced by the UK’s high streets many of which go back much further than the economic difficulties of the last few years.

“Prioritising action on Business Rates and parking is exactly right. These are the key concerns for customers and retailers.

“We agree, it would be ‘too easy’ to blame out-of-town retailing for the decline of our high streets. This plan should be about supporting a rich mix of retailing not striking dividing lines between big names and independents or town centre and others. When he acts on this report, David Cameron should not restrict that choice by making life harder for any particular category of retailers.

“The three key words in the report are ‘make things happen’. Let’s see the best of these recommendations acted on quickly.”

Planning

“Mary Portas is right to reject a moratorium on non-town centre development. At a time when economic growth is the nation’s key priority, this would have been damaging. The BRC strongly supports the existing town centre first approach which provides a clear framework for deciding where to put new development.

“But we are concerned that introducing a ‘Secretary of State exceptional sign off’ for all new out-of-town development and requiring an affordable shops quota is unnecessarily restrictive and could tip the balance against some new developments being built. The market must be able to react to shoppers’ needs.”

Car Parking

“This is welcome recognition that parking is critical. We back ‘free controlled parking schemes’ and we’re very interested in the idea of a new parking costs league table

“We would though be very concerned at any proposal which sought to penalise parking out-of-town. Free parking benefits customers. We should be levelling up the appeal of retail locations of all types.”

High Street Management and Business Improvement Districts

“The report is right to recognise that town centres are assets and need to be actively managed. With funding from retailers, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are providing leadership and investment in a number of towns and cities but support depends on retailers having the right to vote before one is established. Providing successful BIDs with additional responsibilities and powers could be a good idea.”

Business Rates help for new retail businesses

“Our own just-published research shows that historically retail births and deaths have been roughly equal. In 2007 there were 23,000 of each. But deaths are now exceeding births which dropped to 21,000 in 2009. Help for start-ups that contributes to improving the survival rate of new retail businesses would be welcome.

“But we’re delighted Mary Portas has not ignored the impact of massive business rates bills on existing retailers. Achieving a rates system that produces increases that are more affordable and predictable is crucial. Bricks and mortar on the high street must reflect changing shopping habits.”

Markets

“A clean, efficient, well managed market can make a positive contribution to the local trading environment by adding to the distinctiveness of particular town centres and drawing shoppers in from a wider area.”

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