The Government has announced that it has accepted the bulk of the recommendations contained in the Portas Review and will give its full support to ensure their implementation. Celebrity retail expert Mary Portas was asked by the Prime Minister to conduct the review of UK high streets last year and her findings were published in December.
This week Grant Shapps, the Minister for the State for Communities and Local Government, said he had accepted ‘virtually all’ of the recommendations. Shapps says the measures will “help local people turn their high streets into the beating hearts of their communities once again.”
The measures include a £10 million innovation fund to reduce the number of empty commercial properties and a pledge to look at planning legislation and parking charges. The news has been welcomed by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the British Property Federation (BPF). However the decision to reject Portas’s recommendation to curb future out-of-town developments has been criticised by independent retailers.
Meanwhile March 30 marked the deadline for applications to become one of the 12 Portas Pilot Towns. It is thought that up to 300 towns have submitted bids for a share of the £1 million pounds available to rejuvenate town centres. Each applicant had to demonstrate that they fulfilled the scheme’s criteria. This includes having a ‘town team’ in place comprising representatives from businesses, local authorities and landlords, having a vision for the future and strong leadership.
Among the applicants is the Staffordshire market town of Newcastle-under-Lyme. The Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme is part of the North Staffordshire conurbation dominated by neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent. Despite this proximity the town has its own distinct identity and is proud of its independent status which dates back to 1173. Newcastle’s town centre revolves around its historic outdoor market, known locally as the Stones. It also has a vibrant nightlife and is a popular destination for students from nearby Keele University. However, in common with many towns, it has its share of empty commercial properties.
Newcastle’s bid to become a Portas Pilot Town is being coordinated by Newcastle Town Centre Partnership which has launched a Facebook page to generate support for the application. The bid is built around a vision to reinvent Newcastle as a market town for the 21st century. It is hoped this will transform Newcastle into a centre for retail, leisure, culture and music while building on the town’s history by making the market the focal point of the plans.
Newcastle Town Centre Partnership will be looking at issues like parking, rents, commercial property business rates and proposals for use of empty properties. The town will also be taking part in Local Market Fortnight beginning on June 23, and Independents Month during July. Throughout this period they will be conducting a survey seeking the views of shoppers and other town centre visitors.
The bid has attracted the support of the Borough’s MP Paul Farrelly. In a statement, he said: “Newcastle faces challenges in regenerating key sites around the town centre in a way that knits together coherently.
“That means, too, that it also has a great opportunity to flourish as a 21st century market town with a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere.”
The 12 successful towns in the Portas Pilot Town bidding process will be announced at the end of May.
It is not GAME Over for the Commercial Property Chain