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Mary Portas select committee appearance: what the experts said

Yesterday Mary Portas appeared in front of the Communities and Local Government select committee, and later this week the Grimsey Review will be published. Drapers takes a look at what the expert view is on the future of the high street and its two (potential) saviours…

Chris Field, managing director of Fieldworks Marketing, said: “Sadly the focus will now be on what Portas has not achieved rather than on the fact that she correctly raised the issue of the future of the high street in the first place. While Grimsey is correct in some of his criticisms of her, to say that it was a PR stunt is not helpful.

“Better to look at what both are contributing in the way of ideas. What everyone misses I believe is, the future of the high street is substantially not about retailing as we know it. A greater mix of retail and services will be needed to tempt people back, which is as much about coffee, health and beauty treatments, entertainment and social services, as it is about mainstream chain-store retailing.”

Roland Smyth, senior associate at law firm Dundas & Wilson, said: “Portas is right in saying a better mix of uses is needed on the high street – with a raft of existing shops being replaced by health centres, coffee shops and the like. But while tenant mix is easy(ish) to achieve in shopping centres controlled by one landlord, ownership on the high street tends to be highly fragmented.  Which landlord will want to strike out first by swapping a high retail rent for a lower rent from a crèche operator?”

A BRC spokeswoman said:  “We welcome Mary Portas’s comments on business rates. There is a growing consensus that the business rates system is no longer fit for purpose. The single most important step towards reviving high streets and boosting retail jobs across the country would be a complete review of the system.

“Business rates force retailers to pay disproportionately more tax than other sectors. They are less competitive than property taxes in other countries, distort occupancy costs and lead to vacant shops. Reform would be hugely beneficial to the UK economy and our local communities.”

Julie Palmer, partner at recovery firm Begbies Traynor, said: “While Grimsey and Portas actually agree on many of the key issues around reducing red tape, installing specialist town planning teams and free parking to entice consumers back to the high street, Grimsey’s Review is expected to deliver a more hard hitting plan of action to finally force the independent retail sector back on track. Most importantly, Grimsey’s major focus on reducing business rates - which are expected to add nearly £300m to retailers’ costs by April next year - will surely be the best medicine for the high street in the long run.”

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