Parking reforms & market days, as @MaryPortas’ plan approved cc @grantshapps

This article appeared today in http://www.thisismoney.co.uk entitled Parking reforms and market days on the way as Mary Portas’ plan approved – but supermarkets escape out-of-town veto.

Britain’s struggling High Streets are to receive a multimillion-pound funding boost as the Government accepts ‘virtually all’ of the recommendations from retail expert Mary Portas.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps revealed a ‘Portas Plus’ plan, building on Ms Portas’ recommendations in her December review commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron.

This includes a £10million High Street Innovation Fund to return empty shops to use, money awarded to locations delivering the most creative and effective revitalisation projects and a National Markets Day to encourage entrepreneurs.

The ‘Love Your Local Market’ event is to take place on June 23, run by the National Association of British Market Authorities and will give aspiring entrepreneurs the offer of a ‘table for a tenner’, giving them the opportunity to try out their own business ideas.

A £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts will also be set up to help town centres access loans.

Ms Portas also advised on planning changes to aid town centres, free parking and annual market days, while warning that High Streets could ‘disappear forever’ without urgent action.

The Government said it was accepting ‘the vast majority’ of the report’s recommendations and ‘intended to go further’ by offering extra funding and slashing bureaucracy.

However it rejected one recommendation for all out-of-town retail developments to be approved by ministers. Its decision to turn down the introduction of an ‘exceptional sign off’ by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will come as a huge relief to larger retailers, particularly the big supermarkets.

Recommendations that will be implemented include a National Markets Day to help aspiring entrepreneurs and encourage more visitors to town centres, while a further round of ‘Portas Pilots’ would follow 12 launched last month to trial some of her recommendations.

Mr Shapps said: ‘Mary Portas’s 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.’

Mr Shapps said he supported Ms Portas’s recommendation for town teams of key local players set up to drive changes.

They would be encouraged to consider later opening hours to stimulate ‘a vibrant evening economy’ and to make better use of public spaces.

He also announced a commitment to helping councils revoke ‘outdated’ rules hindering new markets and businesses, reform current planning rules to allow the conversion of space above shops to two flats rather than one and consult on abolishing centrally-set minimum parking charges to give councils the flexibility to levy lower parking penalty notices.

He also announced steps to ensure greater transparency on parking charges to introduce competition between town centres.

Ms Portas said: ‘I’ve been thrilled by the response of people, town teams and communities up and down the country who have seized this opportunity to come together and form their own ideas.

‘I’m pleased that the response from Grant Shapps today is designed to build on this momentum and give local people the tools they need to turn their creative ideas into reality, along with extra money to bring empty shops back into use.

‘Naturally I would have liked greater central intervention in critical areas such as change of use, parking, business rates and the sign off of new out of town developments and I will continue to fight for these, but I do believe that today marks the first day of a fresh new approach, putting our high streets firmly back on the public and national agenda.’

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the Government’s response included ‘positive steps’ but ‘doesn’t live up to her bigger ambition to revitalise our high streets’.

BRC director of business Tom Ironside said: ‘We’re waiting for the Government to share the full detail of its response since there is a difference between accepting recommendations and putting them into action.

‘We were pleased with many of Mary Portas’s findings, which set out a bold vision for the future of the high street, but we’re concerned the Government hasn’t yet matched her level of ambition with its response.’

He added: ‘This was an opportunity to revitalise our town centres for the 21st century but is in danger of becoming just another report on a dusty shelf.’

The Local Government Association’s Economy and Transport Board chairman, Peter Box, said: ‘It is pleasing that the Government response to Mary Portas will accept many of the views raised by town halls, including greater involvement from local businesses and a funding boost for areas with high numbers of empty shops.

‘We now need a sustained focus on improving high streets in the years to come, particularly in light of figures from the OECD which show that more and more shoppers are using the internet instead.

‘High streets across the UK have suffered a cardiac arrest and councils are keen to work alongside Government to deliver the necessary life support.’