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Government releases money for high street development

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Housing minister Grant Shapps has accepted ‘virtually all’ the recommendations made in the Portas High Street Review and has announced a number of new town centre funding packages

A government-commissioned report by self-styled retail guru Mary Portas published in December 2011 argued for a range of measures to help boost local shops.

In its official response, the government said it would take on the vast majority of recommendations as well as setting up further initiatives such as a high street innovation fund, which includes £10m to help bring empty shops back into use.

According to the AJ’s sister publication Construction News, other initiatives announced include the £1 million future high street X-fund, to be awarded to ‘creative and effective schemes’ and a £500,000 Business Improvement Districts fund to help town centres access loans.

The government said it had also received an unexpectedly high level of interest in a £100,000 town centre pilot scheme, with hundreds of towns across the UK applying to become one of just 12 ‘Portas pilots’. The scheme has been extended as a result and further pilots will be launched at a later date.

Shapps said: ‘Mary Portas’ review made crystal clear the stark challenge our high streets face. With internet shopping and out-of-town centres here to stay, they must offer something new if they are to entice visitors back.

‘Her report has provided the catalyst for change that many towns have been craving. I now want to see people coming together to form their own town teams and turning their creative ideas into reality to ensure their high streets thrive long into the future.’

Martin Blackwell, chief executive at the Association of Town Centre Management, said: ‘We all recognise that the High Street in 10 or even five years will be radically different to that we see today. This government’s approach, shown in the response to Portas’ report, is giving local communities the opportunity to shape the future high street they want to see in their town.’

Unless car parking charges are abolished, the high street will never be able to compete with out-of-town centres

The Forum of Private Business’s head of campaigns, Jane Bennett, said: ‘While it is refreshing to see the Government has embraced the spirit of the Portas Review and clearly understands the importance of the British high street, we feel that it hasn’t nearly gone far enough.

‘The issues of parking and business rates, we believe, are absolutely crucial to the future success of the high street and the small, independent retailers who ply their trade there. And while there has been movement here, it is not nearly bold or brave enough.

She added: ‘The Government says it will ask councils to ‘look closely’ at town centre car parking charges. This is simply not enough. Councils earn money from this and are hardly likely to give it up. Essentially, the Government needs to fund this initiative if it is serious about nursing the high street back to health. Unless car parking charges are abolished, the high street will never be able to compete on a like-for-like basis with out-of-town centres, where parking is universally free.’

“For hard pressed consumers, if it is a choice between paying even a nominal charge to park when they visit the high street, or paying nothing at all to visit an ‘out of town’, it will be a no brainer for the majority. Unless this issue is tackled head on – and increasing footfall is all important here – everything else is irrelevant,”

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