Retail expert Mary Portas has demanded a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron to challenge him on his commitment to saving the UK’s high streets.
Portas, who led a Government-backed report to revive struggling town centres, said she was left “utterly deflated” by a decision last week to allow Tesco to build a superstore in Margate, a town chose to pilot her recommendations.
She criticised Eric Pickles, the secretary for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), for not responding to her fight against the Tesco store, adding that Margate residents were “appalled” by the decision.
Portas said she wants to meet with Cameron and Pickles to find out if they are committed to transforming high streets, according to The Telegraph.
Referring back to one of her 28 recommendations in the Portas Review, which she made to Government in 2011, Portas again urged ministers to introduce an “exceptional sign-off” where Government would have to approve every out-of-town development and prove it would not affect town centres.
She also chastised Chancellor George Osborne for failing to tackle the burden of business rates, which retailers claim are restricting investment and job creation. Portas said rates were hindering entrepreneurs.
She said: “I genuinely believe we can have a new type of high street, but we need to dig deeper and I’m not seeing that happening and it’s getting very frustrating. The Government response to my proposals has been tepid. I feel exhausted by it.
“I feel thoroughly and utterly deflated.
“What happened with Margate was just the icing on the cake. I can’t see how we can ever make a high street work when they allow that. I mean how can a high street compete with an 82,000 sq ft Tesco?”
She added: “I’ll never walk away. I will always be there for the towns and the people that have been trying so hard. But I would like an audience with David Cameron and Eric Pickles.
“I want them to say they will look at this exceptional sign-off, they will look at business rates and say they are ‘town centres first’. At the moment they are paying lip service to it.”
The DCLG said an independent report showed the Tesco development on Margate’s seafront could help drive footfall into the town centre.
But Portas asserted that Tesco should have had to prove it could not find a site in the centre. She claimed the development would become a “symbol” of the Government’s failure.
She added: “I feel what is happening is the Government is saying, ‘Let’s put this issue on the local authorities, let’s empower the local authorities’. Because if you ask central government it isn’t going to happen.”