The UK government has today announced that TV personality Mary Portas will be leading a review into how to turn around struggling high streets.
Portas is famous for her retail-related Channel 4 and BBC TV shows in which she shows independent retailers how to improve their businesses, her regular newspaper columns and her PR company Yellow Door.
As part of her role, Portas will visit various towns and cities across the country to assess how government, local authorities, and businesses can work together to reinvigorate failing shopping areas.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The high street should be at the very heart of every community, bringing people together, providing essential services and creating jobs and investment; so it is vital that we do all that we can to ensure they thrive.
“That is why I am delighted that Mary Portas has agreed to take on this review and I am confident that her straight talking, no nonsense approach will help us to create vibrant and diverse town centres and bring back the bustle to our high streets.”
The latest review of the high street from the Local Data Company (LDC) in February found that the national shop vacancy rate rose 2.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent by the start of the year.
With high rental rates and falling consumer spending many retailers have been finding it hard to maintain stores in some areas of the country, with Margate having the highest vacancy level, 37.4 per cent, of any centre in the UK according to the LDC.
In December the coalition government unveiled its Localism Bill which will look to help local businesses compete with larger companies on the high street, but property companies and retail organisations have warned that growth should not be put at jeopardy by these measures.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has responded to today’s announcement by warning that the major retailers should not be sidelined or hindered by these proposals.
“Independents are a vital part of an attractive retail mix but so are the big names,” Stephen Robertson, Director General of the BRC, commented.
“Ultimately it’s customers who have the power in retailing through the shopping choices they make. This review should not seek to restrict that choice by making life harder for any particular category of retailers.”
Launched today, the review is scheduled to be completed by autumn 2011 at which point it will be presented to the government.
Portas added: “With town centre vacancy rates doubling over the last two years the need to take action to save our high streets has never been starker.
“I am calling on businesses, local authorities and shoppers to contribute their ideas on how we can halt this decline in its tracks and create town centres that we can all be proud of.”