The Portas Pilots have been a “valuable testing ground” but the Government has stressed they were never meant to solve the problem of the struggling high street.
In the progress report for the Portas Pilots called The Future of High Streets, the Department for Communities and Local Government praised Mary Portas’ “tireless commitment” to the UK’s high streets.
It said: “We have taken action to tackle the problems Mary identified. We have lifted planning restrictions, cut small business’ rates and given councils a financial incentive to support high streets. These changes will help town centre landlords make better use of their empty properties, get more start-up businesses set up in the high street, and see a third of a million small businesses paying no rates at all.”
But it is careful to emphasise that the pilots “will not be the complete solution to the problems faced by the high streets but they have been a valuable testing ground for ideas and actions which other areas can learn from”.
In the conclusion it again reiterates that the pilots “are not and never were designed to be the solution to the high street”.
Last year the Government awarded 27 Portas Pilots £100,000 to test out ways to help their floundering high street based upon the 28 recommendations put forward by retail expert Mary Portas.
It also awarded local authorities money through the £10m High Street Innovation Fund and the High Streets Renewal Award.
But the Portas Pilots have since come under fire as many local authorities have been slow in spending the money, which was awarded 18 months ago.
Former Focus boss Bill Grimsey, who has launched his own rival report on the high street, said: “This is the clearest sign yet that the Portas Review was just fiddling in the margins. How can we go from ministers calling it the ‘vanguard of a high street revolution’ to today’s Government announcement that Portas Pilots ‘are not and were never designed to be the solution to the high street’?
“Ministers spent a long time hyping this up and now they’re trying to play the results down. This is a classic case of over-promising and under-delivering. We need to get serious about the high street and look at a complete solution to the challenges it faces.”
The British Retail Consortium director general Helen Dickinson said more the Government needed to do more by tackling high business rates. Yesterday, the group directed a summit of retail finance directors to address the
“In order to make progress on our high streets it’s the economics of operating there that need to be addressed,” she added.
The Future High Streets Forum, which is co-chaired by Alliance Boots health and beauty chief executive Alex Gourlay and local growth minister Mark Prisk,will be driving forward the work done by the Pilots.
Government said that in the next six months it will be launching a Business Improvement Districts [BID] Loan Fund to help towns to introduce a BID themselves and implement regulations to allow them to operate across a wider area.
Meanwhile, the Government will also be further relaxing planning regulations to help convert retail to residential property, particularly to make the most of flats above shops. It is also going to look at how to encourage a more flexible approach to parking.