Mary Portas To Save High Streets In Crisis

Dec 13, 2011


Much ado today on the matter of Mary Portas ‘Queen of Shops’ offering her view and her recommendations as a Government adviser on how our High Streets can be revitalised.

It’s great to hear that local towns should be promoting street markets. And it’s heartening that the question of better and perhaps cheaper parking is being mooted too.

Mary, of High Street estate agent critique fame, wants to ensure that out of town shopping centres like Lakeside, Westfield, the Trafford Centre and the Bullring are authorised by planners in ‘exceptional circumstances only’.

She wants to penalise landlords for maintaining empty properties and offer subsidies on business rates to new businesses taking up High Street premises.

‘Town teams’ are proposed to focus on re-building community and social aspects of our town centres.

These are all good ideas and make sense in theory but might be hard to deliver in practice especially against resistance from the consumer. Forcing shoppers back into congested Town Centres instead of their favoured retail park will be  tall order. Who will pay the difference in revenue to councils for their loss of parking income? The tax payer will inevitably foot the bill somewhere else, no doubt.

The issue is also one of shop rents that have not reduced in line with footfall. They need to, dramatically, for retailers to be able to justify a continuing presence locally. That simply isn’t going to happen when many premises are owned by uber rich pension funds and insurance companies that have by way of contingency a ‘vacancy rate’ that they can sustain at even lower levels before they have to worry about poorer returns. Costa Coffee, Starbucks, charity shops and banks ensure that enough retail gaps are filled in that respect.

But the point here is missed. Revitalising High Streets is not about artificial force feeding. Because to do so when the patient is already dead, is pointless.

Undercover, out of town shopping centres are more appealing than a windy High Street. And they offer far more choice to  shoppers too.

And the other little bug bear in the Portas Plan is the consideration of that internet thingy. Because that’s even cheaper and more convenient than those retail outlets could ever be.

Com Res, Nielsen et al confirm what we all know. Face to face shopping is in terminal decline whilst eCommerce shopping thrives. The graph lines are totally at odds with each other.

So despite all the ideas and posturing over ‘regaining our local shops’, if the consumer is voting with his feet or, as is the case his mouse, then there is little that such romantic aspirations for our outdated shopping streets will do to remedy such a fact.