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Grimsey Review imagines brave new world for town centres

The Grimsey Review has set out a vision for future high streets that incorporates sophisticated technology - but the initial stages will rely on high levels of committment from central government and big business.

The review, carried out over the last few months and officially published today (Wednesday September 4) sets out 31 main recommendations, already leaked by the team behind the campaign, which has been run as a voluntary alternative to the 2011 Portas Review.

The report stresses the need to adopt technology within towns to make the most of digital advances, creating a future scenario that a “busy mum” could plan her in-town activities, including leisure and shopping, by synchronizing her smart phone with multichannel businesses.

“If you allow the retailers on the high street to know your email and phone identity they can offer you hyper-local deals as you walk past the shops on the high street,” the report forecasts. “If you are feeling low the mood recognition reader based in local stores can cheer you up by offering you a discount on chocolate.”

But before we get to that point in the future, major retailers, central government and local authorities are among the groups most targeted for immediate action.

Spearheaded by former Wickes and Focus DIY boss Bill Grimsey, the report calls on central government to carry out the bulk of the work.

Among his recommendations, Grimsey argues that central government should introduce new legislation, create a minister for high streets, reform business rates and improve town planning systems. Local authorities are being urged to freeze car parking charges, set out a 20-year plan for the town centre and offer loans to start-up local businesses.

The report, which highlights the plight of smaller retailers, goes on to suggest that “big high street chains that have enjoyed years of plenty putting something back into their high street through a one-off levy”. The recommended compulsory contribution would be 0.25% of sales made in 2014.

Developers of “mega malls” also come under the microscope in being asked to create an unspecified “percentage of affordable space” for local traders and market pitches.

The review concludes by setting out its co-creators – who include 25Ten Boutique owner Paul Turner-Mitchell, Local Data Company director Matthew Hopkinson and Company Watch’s Nick Hood – vision for the future of the high street.

“There will certainly be far fewer shops and technology will completely redesign the way we see and use our local high street,” the report said. “At the moment the post-retail landscape is unclear but we expect it to develop around multi-purpose community hubs. Education, housing, leisure, arts and health will play a much bigger role. So too will high value start-ups and digital enterprise.”

The report has been published in what has been a busy week for the debate around the future of the high street.

On Monday, LDC and the British Independent Retailers Association published figures showing the decline of growth in new shops opening so far this year, with womenswear retailers showing the highest number of net closures.

It followed a weekend of reports based on leaked information from the Grimsey Report that up to 20,000 stores could close in the next year, based on research carried out by Company Watch.

On Monday afternoon, Mary Portas appeared at a select committee hearing to give an update on her review, published 18 months ago. While facing a grilling over a number of well-worn issues, including her involvement with a Channel 4 programme during the early stages of the Portas Pilots, she revealed how little government support she had revealed during that time.

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