As the Portas Review is published in the week before one of the toughest trading Christmases for some time, Jonathan Reynolds reflects on its contribution to a longstanding debate on the future of Britain’s High Streets.
“Mary’s the first to say that there have been plenty of other reports on saving the High Street. Indeed, I may have written one of them myself. She says she ‘ploughed through a huge pile’ and found lots of good ideas. That’s nice to know. So what makes the Portas Review any different? I think there are three things. First, it recognises that High Streets are complex and diverse, as are the vested interests and the motives of those involved in them. Many landlords are still inflexible and unrealistic over their leasing arrangements, despite complaints to the contrary. Many local authorities are conflicted, saying that they have a positive role to play, but at the same time also concerned about parking revenues or environmental goals. All recognise the problem, but no-one wants to own, or has the real ability to single-handedly influence, the solution. Will Mary’s ‘town teams’ achieve this consensus? Secondly, only incentives will push people in the right direction to stimulate and maintain growth. Promoting a National Market Day, removing unnecessary constraints to trading and giving business rate concessions are all necessary steps in the right direction, but are they sufficient? Finally, Portas is explicit in saying that some High Streets may be beyond saving. This is a brave message: few local authorities will welcome a signal that they have to manage decline. This is perhaps the most difficult issue. As the economic tide recedes, some High Streets are being left stranded and we will have to think of new roles for such places to perform.
But the main reason that so many reports gather dust is that in the end it comes down to us. Government, central and local, can try and create the conditions for certain High Streets to be revived and to prosper. But they can’t do it alone. The triple whammy of austerity, growing Internet sales and out-of-town retailing means that the majority of consumers are looking increasingly elsewhere at where they can get value for money. Will we wait for High Streets to get their act together?”
You can read the Portas Review report here.Back to top of article