High street expert Mary Portas has failed to visit four of the town centres chosen for the Portas Pilots, all of which did not feature on her television programme.
Portas has spent weeks filming in three of the locations which feature on the Channel 4 series Mary: Queen of the High Street. However a series of freedom of information requests, submitted by independent retailer Paul Turner Mitchell, show that four received no visit whatsoever.
When Grant Shapps, the then local government minister, wrote to Portas in February last year he said he hoped her “help and expertise will be extended … to those pilots that do not feature in your show”, according to The Guardian.
A spokesperson for Portas said her office had “contacted all 12 of the first pilot towns chosen by the government to arrange a visit. To date, nine visits have taken place, including seven from the first round of pilot towns. These visits have been arranged around her other substantial commitments”.
However, Bedford, Newbiggin by the Sea, Stockton-on-Tees and Wolverhampton councils said she has yet to visit.
Joanna Wake, chair of the Stockton-on-Tees town team, told the newspaper it had “got on with the job without Mary. She had a TV show to make. The film crew did scout the town but said there was too much building work going on in the high street”.
The government has funded two rounds of pilots. As well as the cash, the first 12 were promised Portas’s personal intervention as well as access to Whitehall officials.
Turner Mitchell said it was “wrong to call the winning bids Portas pilots when most town teams were left to their own devices to try and turn things round. The problems on the high street are deeply entrenched and they need serious attention, not an off-the-shelf reality TV approach”.
A Department for Communites and Local Government spokesman said that ministers had visited a number of Portas pilots to see what more support can be offered.