The past couple of weeks has seen former Iceland and Focus boss square up to the Queen of Shops Mary Portas over what needs to be done to save the British high street from oblivion. But just how different are the approaches?
Grimsey has been highly critical of the current approach, slamming both Portas herself and the government, which he says is only interested in “headline grabbing”, who have “given a platform to a celebrity and left the high street on a highway to nothing”.
Portas has, of course, hit back at his claims that her approach has been simply “flashy” and changed nothing in a meaningful way, noting that “all of his points are covered in my review”.
In next week’s issue of Drapers, we’ll be analysing the two, comparing Portas’ findings published in the Portas Review with the early-stage thinking that Grimsey has discussed with us so far.
The two agree on several areas that they believe need tackling: business rates, parking, planning permission, and the need to get footfall up by creating a vibrant town centre.
But there are some areas where they deviate, and their methods could end up being quite distinct.
Grimsey is unequivocal in his view that retail is not the way to save town centres. He told Drapers that the Portas Review wrongly held a “sentimental focus on shopping”, instead highlighting the leisure, entertainment and cultural aspects of life in British town centres. While Portas has argued that the approach needs to be holistic, she firmly believes that retail will continue to be the lifeblood of towns. Grimsey does not.
He also sees increased residential occupancy of former retail units as a crucial way to revive high streets – arguing the simple mathematics that more people living in town centres will mean more people spending in them.
Another critical difference, Grimsey says, is that everything will be commercially sound. He hasn’t yet explained how he will be able to balance the books in a way that others have failed to do in the past, but told Drapers he was “a business man” first and foremost, insisting that it would have to make financial sense in order to work well into the future.
On that note, he also claims to be taking a far more long-term approach, saying his proposals will look 25-30 years into the future.
Whether his crystal ball can offer him insight that others has missed remains to be seen, and all eyes will be on Grimsey Review when it is published to see if he really has put his money where he mouth is.
Their starting points are very similar - where they end up could be quite different, but it will take careful consideration to come up with something quite as “radically” different as has been promised.