The next wave of Portas Pilots have been unveiled including the high street in local government minister Grant Shapps’ own constituency of Welwyn Hatfield.
The Government named a further 15 locations set to trial some of retail guru Mary Portas’ 28 recommendations to government, which include Ashford, Braintree, Morecombe and Tiverton, on top of the 12 initial pilot towns announced in May.
The Government has said it will share £5.5m between the 27 successful bidders and 392 other town teams. The 15 pilots, revealed today, will receive a share of £1.5m to make their ideas a reality.
This includes £300,000 from the Greater London Authority for the London pilots.
Ideas include creating a group discount scheme within the town to attract local people in Lowestoft, providing mentoring for independent retailers in Braintree and creating satellite markets in Waterloo.
The BRC is offering existing and new pilots free membership to the organisation as well as access to information for the 12 month period.
Shapps said: “Today I’d like to congratulate the 15 town teams that, in the face of stiff competition, have been selected to be the next Portas Pilots.
“But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and I’m determined that we don’t turn our backs on the other 392 Town Teams who put their plans forward to revive their high streets.”
Portas said: “I am thrilled that communities up and down the country have looked beyond the money and have been mobilised to create “town teams” and demand more for their high streets. Whilst I shall continue to fight for the other 27 recommendations in my review am looking forward to seeing fifteen more British towns putting their plans into action.”
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “The pilots are a good start towards meaningful action which could help town centres turn their fortunes around. More pilots will provide a wider platform of support for regeneration across England and we want to back that by pledging our own package of practical help to them at no cost.”
But Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk sounded a note of caution. He said: “Now that this gimmickry is over, the Government needs to focus on the real issues facing the high street. The highest rise in business rates in 20 years, the wholesale withdrawal of credit insurance and a dangerously complacent attitude by Government towards out of town developments is what’s holding the high street back.
“Grant Shapps has just received a £350m windfall from business rates and he’s spending less than £20million to support retail, a sector that contributes 20 per cent towards GDP. The fact that the Government spent four times this amount on appeasing the Lib Dems last year for their AV vote just shows where their priorities lie.”
British Council of Shopping Centres chief executive Michael Green said: “These latest government announcements ensure that no High Street is left behind.
“Nearly 400 Town Teams will be invited to benefit from a further £5m package of support. The creativity and quality of the submissions has been overwhelming and the hard work now begins.”
Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM) chief executive Martin Blackwell told Retail Week: “I’m encouraged by the mix of towns not just in terms of geography but also the type of towns which allows us to learn more.”
Blackwell said that town centre managers have learnt lessons from the first 12 towns where managing expectations and communications has been difficult in some cases.
Guy Grainger, head of retail at Jones Lang LaSalle, said: “Whilst the sum of money for each location is not going to be life-changing this announcement is positive as it recognises the need to invest in creative solutions for our town centres that are being threatened by the structural changes in retail.”
Those towns not selected to be pilots will be given access to a new ATCM-run online encyclopaedia – 100 Ways to Help the High Street.
A number of bodies have stepped in to provide support for the pilot towns. Arts Council England will offer advice, expertise and potentially grant support; while Springboard Research has agreed to provide access data and run workshops for pilots.
The British Council of Shopping Centres and the British Property Federation are coordinating a mentor scheme online.
The full list of towns is:
- Ashford, whose Town Team will use its local market to attract people back to the high street by offering new stall-holders the opportunity to have a ‘stall for a tenner’;
- Berwick, who will work with local builders and other businesses to give their high street a much-needed facelift;
- Braintree, who will provide mentoring support to the high number of independent shops in the area;
- Brighton (London Road), who will encourage retailers to work together to tackle vandalism and crime to help realise the area’s full potential;
- Hatfield, who will look beyond retail to provide community and event facilities to encourage more visitors to the high street;
- Leamington (Old Town), who plan to focus their efforts on tackling the high vacancy rate in the high street and encourage new businesses to the area;
- Liverpool (Lodge Lane), who will help aspiring young entrepreneurs in the community by offering a mentoring service;
- Waterloo – Lower Marsh and the Cut (London Borough of Lambeth), who plan to set up satellite markets and tackle the high number of empty shops in the area;
- Forest Hill, Kirkdale and Sydenham (London Borough of Lewisham), who plan to renovate 12 empty premises and improve signage in the local area;
- Chrisp Street, Watney Market, Roman Road (London Borough of Tower Hamlets), who will use exploit their high visitor numbers to run a series of public information programmes;
- Loughborough, who plan to involve students from Loughborough University to reinvigorate their high street and encourage budding business owners to consider setting up locally;
- Lowestoft, who will create a Town ‘group’ discount scheme to attract local people, and establish a mentoring scheme in conjunction with schools, colleges and retailers;
- Morecambe, who will set up a community café to provide advice and support for those looking to take up business opportunities;
- Rotherham, who will launch a publicity campaign to highlight the unique nature of the high street and encourage people to ‘shop local’; and
- Tiverton, who plan to improve parking facilities to encourage more visitors and tourists to the town centre.