Town centre managers respond to Portas Review

TOWN centre managers in Comet country have been responding to a report which highlights ways to tackle problems faced by high streets across the country.

An independent review of the nation’s high streets and town centres has been carried out by television retail expert Mary Portas at the Government’s request, with the findings published last week.

Among the 28 recommendations in the review is for the management of high streets to be strengthened through ‘Town Teams’, changing the business rate system to better support small businesses and independent retailers and encouraging affordable town centre car parking.

The review also stressed the need for a town centre first approach and giving communities a greater say by including the high street in neighbourhood planning and encouraging innovative community uses of empty high street spaces.

“Mary Portas has recognised and highlighted the same things town centre managers have been saying for years and years,” said Letchworth GC town centre manager Lee Boswell.

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“It has been hindered by continual poor decisions when it comes to things like planning permission and parking charges. Let’s level the playing field and let’s give high street shops the same opportunities that other businesses seem to get. Hopefully the high profile nature of this review means it will actually lead somewhere and not just another dead end.”

Murray Fastier, Baldock town centre manager said the report could only be a positive thing, while both Stevenage town centre manager Tracey Parry and Hitchin town centre manager Keith Hoskins said many of the recommendations were already in place in each town.

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Mr Hoskins added: “The question I asked myself as I read through every single one of those 28 recommendations is, ‘who is going to pay for this’? Everything there needs to be resourced. That’s the frustration we have at the moment.”

All four town centre managers said trade over Christmas had been better than many predicted.

“The town is absolutely heaving”, said Ms Parry.

“There are queues for the car parks, lots and lots of people in town. It’s always a busy town centre. I don’t know whether it’s better than last year. In terms of like for like sales information we won’t get that until January.”

Mr Fastier said: “It’s a bit mixed. Some of them are doing very well but the businesses and shops in Baldock are pretty niche anyway, so some of them are continuing to do well whereas some of the restaurants are not as busy as they have been in previous years. The shops are not being outdone by online shops. They are not doing as badly as expected, or as portrayed in the rest of the country. It’s not all doom and gloom.”

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