Almost a year has rolled by since the Portas review was published and I wonder if anything has been achieved.
Almost a year has rolled by since the Portas review was published and I wonder if anything has been achieved. If my recent visit to Margate is anything to go by I’d say the answer is yes and no.
Yes, there are local groups working hard to save their high streets, but no, it has very little to do with Portas, other than perhaps her having provided some initial impetus.
Perversely, her interventions in Margate seemed only to undermine an inspirational team who weren’t interested in 15 minutes of fame.
They were reportedly forced out in a coup precipitated by their misgivings over the TV contract that was part of the Portas package.
I met with original team members who buzzed with excitement about their future plans, but admitted confusion over progress within the Portas group. Having turned their backs on the run-down high street, the cameras are apparently focused on the TV-friendly old town where significant investment has already been made.
It remains to be seen if Mary will claim credit for the improvements on screen, especially as most of the work had been done before she sashayed into town.
The new town team in Margate is chaired by a local estate agent and seems to have priorities other than retail revitalisation.
As concerns surface in other pilot towns, Mary has cited unease that she’s been used as a PR smokescreen. An issue I have highlighted on numerous occasions.
If we are indeed seeing the death throes of this misguided venture, will there be anything in its stead? After the departure of the woefully lightweight Grant Shapps, the new high street minister Mark Prisk has an opportunity to snatch back the initiative with properly resourced and directed policies.
We all know what needs attention. Parking charges and rates reform are good starting points. But if we have another year of distraction, I fear that even the great work being done in towns like Margate won’t be enough to save them from oblivion.
- Ian Middleton, Managing director and co-founder, Argenteus