Portas heads in the right direction

Mary Portas' report for BIS on how to revive UK high streets was released today and sets out a clear plan to help high streets compete in a retail landscape that has been completely transformed by the growth of supermarkets, super malls and the internet.

Her overriding recommendation is that we need to do everything we can to increase footfall to our high streets. Businesses will inevitably follow customers. She compared high streets to shopping centres, which begin by courting the anchor tenants, such as John Lewis or Marks & Spencer with a track record of attracting shoppers. Get them in and other retailers will flock. For small centres like Brockley Road or Lewisham Way, this obviously isn't an option, but what we can do is focus on other types of enterprise that draw people out of their homes. In particular, she emphasised the power of street markets, gyms and creches as businesses that the internet and out of town sites can't compete with.

To do that, she says Councils need to relax use class rules to make it easier for units to swap between retail and other uses.  However, she also argues that too many businesses of one type can have a damaging effect on a high street's attractiveness, which is something that many BC readers (and BC) have been arguing for years - a couple of betting shops are fine, dozens are detrimental to a high street's viability. It's interesting to note that she mentions chicken shops specifically and argues that a special use class should be created for bookies, to make it easier to control numbers:

One of the biggest unnecessary restrictions on business seems to be the use class system, which makes it difficult for buildings to have different uses and to change uses. For example it should be straightforward to convert to or from the D2 (leisure) class; and use Local Development Orders to remove these and other requirements. This would have a big impact on the number of empty properties and encourage more creative use of second, as well as first, loor spaces on our high streets.

There is currently a 13 week target for processing planning applications but to drive this we could 
publish the average length of time it takes to get a change of use by local authority. This would send a real signal to business about how easy it is to do business in different areas.

I do think there need to be limits, though. What I really want to see is diversity on our high streets. 

When a high street has too much of one thing it tips the balance of the location and inevitably puts off potential retailers and investors. Too many charity shops on one high street are an obvious example of this. Funnily enough, too many fried chicken shops have the same effect.

Useless landlords (which this part of South East London suffers from) are another target, with recommendations including further disincentives to landlords to leave shops empty, a public register of high street landlords (which would certainly help Brockley entrepreneurs work out who owns some of the dormant shops around the area) and more use of compulsory purchase orders.

Freeing up parking through free CPZs on high streets (which has worked well in Honor Oak) is another recommendation, while she urges Councils to put more effort in to making high streets "accessible, attractive and safe."

In sum, it reads like the BC manifesto and even if it is not adopted by national government, we hope that it will be an inspiration for Lewisham Council. Please let us know what you think. Read the report here.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Publicity stunt by a prematurely tired government.

Anonymous said...

Rhubarb!

The same problems need to be dealt with whatever party is in power.

Our shopping streets and parades are in a poor state and need to be improved.

Waiting for local government and absentee commercial landlords to engage the independent retailers rather than leave it to large corporates with their fondness for car parks....well policy that needs to change.

Anonymous said...

I find it amazing that for years we've allowed giants like Tesco to rule retail using the argument that we have to "listen to the market" and that consumers will dictate what survives by "voting with their feet" and now we're all up in arms because we've realised that policy has destroyed any decent retail environment we could have had.

And the whole idea of facilitating car parking is ridiculous. We need to make shopping cores accessible to cyclists and pedestrians if we're to preserve a decent urban environment.

Anonymous said...

Drive away the motoring customers (pun not intended) and you lose the busy buzz a successful shopping district needs. Bicyclists and pedestrians and car owners can co-exist you know. They manage to just about everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Not true. Look at Oxford St this past weekend. Look at lots of major global cities as far as Copenhagen and Bogota, where they have pedestrianised areas previously accessible to motor vehicles. Business has boomed.

Anonymous said...

Funny how one of Eric Pickles recent recommendations completely goes against all of this. He suggested that councils should have lose the power to prevent retail becoming housing...that would kill off High Streets forever...

I hope that doesn't go any further!!!

Anonymous said...

Lewisham Way, Crofton Park etc ain't Oxford Street.

If Portas is talking about High Streets rather than Shopping parades then Lewisham already has buisnesses that attract footfall.

In the heart of the Lewisham shopping experience there is already a gym, there's also an educational establishment and Europe's largest police station.

Didn't the previous government relax planning classes and the result is a multitude of betting shops.

Recent history should have taught us opportunists will take full advantage of any relaxation of the rules.

Anonymous said...

Yes we need more betting shops....lots of them.....need to bet now!!!!

Osh said...

Err it says we need to control the spread of betting shops

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mary - I do wonder if any serious policies are actually going to come out of this though.

Anonymous said...

We are still due trees which will improve the attractiveness of our high street but I am not sure what can be done about the sportswear clad rappers that congregate outside the chicken shops to curse and spit.

Anonymous said...

Oxford St is almost pedestrianised for most of its length, just buses and taxis and tourists. Who in their right mind would shop there???

Trafalgar Sq and Leicester Sq are now wind-blown oases inhabited by the be-denimed youth of Europe. Hardly attractive to the average Londoner.

ihateprams said...

anychance of a decent pub/bar in brockley cross, the wetherspoons and tiny pram-a-rama orchard dont cut the mustard

Anonymous said...

There's nowt wrong with a 'spoons you gentrifying fascists etc.

?? said...

Are there really problematic numbers of track suit clad "rappers" congregating outside chicken shops covering the pavements with gob or did you just imagine that?

Anonymous said...

Portas said markets were good for High Streets which is why I feel...

Brockley Market would be better for Brockley near its High Street...Brockley Road or failing that Coulgate Street


And the Farmers Markets would be better for the Highj Streets out of the parks and on or near the High Streets of Brockley, Ladywell and Deptford...

Anonymous said...

@ anon 7:00. No it isn't, but Lewisham High St and Brockley Cross are "local" places with people likely to visit from the immediate surrounding area. Where is there to park a bike around Brockley Cross? I find it amazing that this report referred to cars and car parking, but little to pedestrian spaces and cycling facilities.

Before you say that car parking is vital for business, look at this: http://www.treehugger.com/bikes/bogota-revisited-streetfilms-revisits-colombias-inspiring-example-once-more.html

Wherever pedestrianisation has occurred worldwide, business has increased, not fallen.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the report is being realistic? Personally while I don't have any particular slavish love of my car, I think pedestrianised spaces in this country anyway are sad, and at night lonely and dangerous.

Lee said...

It's an excellent report. It's worth reading in full (judging by the comments here, it's something hardly anyone has done).

Parking is well thought through. Free half hour parking controls don't make sense. What can you do in half an hour? (no, not that!). Supermarkets often have 2 hour parking limits because that's how long it takes some people to complete a shop. The parking restrictions are relevant. Strong traders groups or town teams are essential to having a thriving town centre.

Hugh said...

Does the report say why high streets need to be saved, and from what?

Anonymous said...

Why don't you read it and find out.

Anonymous said...

@anon 15:21 - i don't think it's unrealistic to say that if we provided decent, safe infrastructure, somewhere like brockley cross could be accessible to a lot of people, primarily by either foot or bike.

and re: pedestrianised spaces, if they are sad and lonely places at night, it is because they are either in places that have traditionally low footfall or they are not designed properly. it's no secret that we do public space very badly here in the uk.

compare and contrast with places like germany and holland...

http://streetsblog.net/2011/11/15/more-evidence-that-bike-lanes-are-good-for-local-businesses/

Headhunter said...

Personally I would definitely prefer to shop in a pedestrianised area rather than a fume filled polluted canyon of a road with lorries and buses thundering past, cars shuffling through trying to find parking and where it takes an aeon to actually cross the road to get to a shop on the other side of the road. If pedestrianisation was not attractive then successful shopping centres like Westfield would allow cars to drive up and down between the shops

Roll on the pedestrianisation of Oxford St and other parts of the West End. I am still bemused by the Evening Standard's campaign against Westminster Councils proposed policy to charge for parking in the West End in the evening and on Sundays. Apparently it will kill off businesses.

How do we know this? Not once has the Evening Standard or anyone else vilifying Westminster for these charges quoted any kind of statistic to prove that car drivers actually spend more than anyone else in the West End and that the West End's fortune rely upon people in cars and parking facilities.

I have lived in London since 1999 and have spent countless thousands in the West End over the years, yet not once have I or anyone I have been meeting in the West End ever been driving.

AFAIC pedestrianisation is the way to attract shoppers.

Anonymous said...

BBC London reported that despite the temporary pedestrianisation of Oxford St and Regent St last weekend, footfall was 5% down on the same weekend in 2010. And you drive to Westfield, and park.

many of the drivers and parkers in the West End in the evening are working there, often till late in the night. They can't afford £4-80 an hour, who can?

Headhunter said...

BBC quoting that footfall on Oxford St is down on 2010 doesn't prove anything about pedestrianisation...

Big out of town shopping centres like Westfield and Blue Water have been constructed entirely to attract motorists. They are generally a long way from anywhere and you need a car to get to them. Our high streets tend to have better transport links and provide for a more local customer base which can just as easily walk round the corner...

If you can't afford 4.80 an hour to park in the West End then don't drive! Simple as that... The fewer vehicles congesting the streets and polluting the air, the better...

NAT said...

I'd say that it proves nothing about pedestrianisation because we're in the doldrums of the quitest pre christmas retail season for decades.

NAT said...

Quietest, quietest, quietest......ching ching ching..

Anonymous said...

"If you can't afford 4.80 an hour to park in the West End then don't drive! Simple as that..."

And if you work in a restaurant or club just find another job. Westfield is hardly out of town or in the middle of nowhere. Buy an A-Z.

NAT said...

Straight out of Dickens that.

Was that a stab at parody Anon?

Vanessa Parrodys said...

"Was that a stab at parody Anon?"

Errr...

Tamsin said...

On Westminsters plans for weekend parking charges - there are quite a few exhibitions and events that we've gone to over the past year because it is possible to park without paying a fortune that we would probably not have managed if we had bee reliant on the cut-back, engineering-works-riddled, second-rate weekend public transport services.

Travel by car to where you want to be being twenty minutes or so rather than having to allow an hour or more.

On shopping - bulky or heavy things are obviously a bind on public transport. It is good to have a choice.

Headhunter said...

Tamsin - if you want to drive for your own convenience then I think you should be prepared to pay. Motor vehicles making short, unnecessary journeys when public transport would suffice, clog the roads with congestion and lead to London air quality exceeding EU safe limits. I'm sorry but just because you want to be able to drive into London for a show or exhibition, the rest of us shouldn't suffer the consequences and you should pay... I'm still unconvinced that West End business rely on motorists to keep them running, no one has provided any evidence that this is the case...

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