The UK government has today pledged that towns not selected to be Portas Pilots will not be left behind, following news that 15 UK towns have been chosen to take part in the second wave of the scheme.
Local Government Minister Grant Shapps confirmed that the 392 Town Teams not chosen can still make their mark on the retail sector and called on fellow MPs to sign a national pledge to become a Town Team Partner which will allow access to a package of support to their own town.
Worth £5.5million nationwide, the package will enable those from the 392 areas not chosen to gain access to mentoring support while directly benefiting from the existing 27 Portas Pilots.
Shapps, Conservative Minister for Welwyn Hatfield, 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.
“That’s why I’m calling on these communities, led by their MPs, to put themselves forward once again to become Town Team Partners.
“Each one that applies will benefit from a package of support to refine their plans and get the help and advice they need to bring their town centres back to life.”
The government has said that it is to share funding of £5.5 million between the 27 successful towns and the 392 other town teams, while the 15 latest towns will share a package worth £1.5 million.
Of the 15 Portas Pilots confirmed today, three of these have been selected by Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the Greater London Authority is set to invest £300,000 to fund these additions.
Retail guru Mary Portas, who was commissioned by the government last year to lead a review into the future of the UK high street, said that she is looking forward to seeing British towns put their plans into action thanks to the cash injection.
“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,” she said.
Further to this financial package, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has also offered practical support to the new and existing pilots, including access to retail performance statistics and legislative intelligence.
Stephen Robertson, BRC Director General, said: “High streets are the heartbeat of our communities, providing jobs and services but many of them are seeing long-standing difficulties compounded by customers’ current difficulties.
“The Pilots are a good start towards meaningful action which could help town centres turn their fortunes around.”
The British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) is also set to work closely with the towns, providing free mentoring and the group believes that the pilots are a “critical ongoing initiative for Britain”.
However, there has been some criticism of the announcement today as one e-commerce expert warned that the scheme does not focus on the online future of retail.
Ben Dyer, CEO of retail EPOS solution provider SellerDeck, explained: “While Mary Portas’ intentions are great, I’m afraid the scheme is utterly short sighted.
“The internet has transformed retail and thanks to ecommerce we have access to a digital high street larger than any single town could compete with.
“The current high street is obsolete and throwing money at it isn’t the answer. The future is multi-channel - we need to be encouraging retailers to connect the physical and digital retail worlds if they stand any chance of competing with the giants.
“This money could be better spent investing in technology, mentoring and training to help retailers get online.”
The 15 new Portas Pilots are:
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