So a few weeks on from Mary Portas’s report and we have the first signs of something positive potentially coming from it. As part of her review, Ms Portas recommended that town centres be managed through new “town teams” who would be responsible for developing businesses in the area.
Now the government is looking for 12 ‘run down’ High Streets in England to share £1m to help them regenerate. The competition introduces the idea of ‘town teams’, made up of landlords, shopkeepers, residents, and the local authority and is asking them to come up with a vision for their High Street – and a share in the cash.
Areas will bid for support from a dedicated team and Ms Portas herself, but quite how in this market they will decide which High Streets are most deserving I don’t know. As expected the government have described this as a ‘golden ticket’ for town centres, but I fail to see how it will make a significant difference. One million spread between 12 centres is frankly nothing.
The Local Government Association are certainly not impressed and any scheme will have to be run at least in part with their cooperation. So unless the government give local authorities some additional powers (and money) it does appear to be rather an empty gesture.
Councils (and voters) won’t want to see short-term schemes – they want to see some substantial long term changes to their town centres to help them regenerate. Even if as the government is suggesting, this is being Introduced as a pilot to address specific local issues and to kick start other towns into action it will still need funding – but from where?
Perhaps it’s time to ‘hit the supermarkets’ for some funding to undo the damage they have caused of the last 25 years?
It is interesting to note that even in these difficult times nearly all of the Woolworth stores that fell empty with the collapse of the retailer at the start of the current financial problems are now nearly all re-occupied.
This does give some hope for our town centres. The Portas report has highlighted the plight of our nations town centres and has come up with some interesting (and some blindingly obvious) suggestions. It remains to be seen which recommendations the Government take up from the report, sadly they will probably be the cheapest to carry out and not necessarily the best ones! But at least it is a move in the right direction – although I am a strong believer in the fact that it is the supermarkets who have killed our town centres more than any other thing – more on that next week.
However, the old adage, “location, location, location” is as true today as it has ever been, and it is good to see that most of the ‘woollies’ which were always well positioned in most town centres have found new tenants. Yes, most will be pound shops or similar (no one else will take these large units) but at least it keeps some activity in the good areas of the towns.
As we hear about the problems of some of our larger retailers over the last few weeks (Peacocks etc) spare a thought for the small independent shop – it is time to support the small local trader more than ever, this is the only thing that will enable our suburban and small town centres to survive – you have been warned!