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May 24, 2011

Mary Portas to bring British high street back to life

The appointment of reality TV star and retail guru Mary Portas by the Government to head an independent review into the future of the high street has been welcomed by retail groups.

Portas, who fronted the BBC shop-makeover show Mary Queen of Shops, will aim to identify what government, local authorities and businesses can do to:

  • address the problem of vacant shops
  • adopt new business models for the high street
  • prevent the proliferation of “clone towns”
  • increase the number of small and independent retailers in town centres

British Independent Retailers Association communications director, Michael Weedon said: “This will not be a report put together by faceless grey men” as Portas’ “bright, visible and flamboyant identity” should ensure the review succeeds where previous reports with similar remits have not.

“There are issues around parking, rates, rent and crime,” he added. “It’s a complex problem that’s been going on a long time. But at its heart it’s about freeing town centres from their shackles so they can do what they’re good at, and that’s filling the 14.6 per cent of vacant units that currently exist.”

However, Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The review’s emphasis should be on support for all, rather than penalising success.

“Independents are a vital part of an attractive retail mix, but so are the big names,” he added. “This review should not seek to restrict [customer] choice by making life harder for any particular category of retailers.”

Latest figures from the Local Data Company show that 65.3 per cent of surveyed shops in over 800 town centres are independents, where independents are defined as having five or fewer outlets.

Portas will present her review by autumn 2011.