UK high street review: what the experts say
Retail expert Mary Portas today (13 December) set out her vision for revitalisting the UK's high streets. Here's how the industry has responded
to her recommendations.
Stephen Robertson, director general, British Retail Consortium
"The report sets out some practical ways to address problems faced by the UK's high streets many of which go back much further than the economic difficulties of the last few years.
"Prioritising action on Business Rates and parking is exactly right. These are the key concerns for customers and retailers.
"We agree, it would be ‘too easy' to blame out-of-town retailing for the decline of our high streets. This plan should be about supporting a rich mix of retailing, not striking dividing lines between big names and independents or town centre and others. When he acts on this report, David Cameron should not restrict that choice by making life harder for any particular category of retailers.
"The three key words in the report are ‘make things happen'. Let's see the best of these recommendations acted on quickly."
Barry Knight, head of retail, Grant Thornton
"I don't see anything from this review, beyond looking at punitive car parking charges to park in out of town sites, that will encourage consumers to go to the high street.
"Mary Portas is basically suggesting that high street landlords have got to be more amenable to retail tenants and in effect reduce the cost of operating from these properties. The creation of Town Teams and the creation of Business Improvement Districts is all well and good, but the question is who is going to pay for them? Therefore, this is a bit of a pipe dream - firstly in that landlords will be put under huge pressure from their banks should they reduce rental levels, and as such this is not a commercially viable proposal. Secondly, it is hard to see local councils who are under pressure to cut local parking costs also willing to fund 'quangos'.
"The increasing number of large supermarkets and their increased push in to non-food combined with internet shopping are major drivers in the decline of the high street. Mary Portas offers no discussion around how or if anything can be done about the impact of these trends.
"To ensure that high streets do not fall into terminal decline we need to ensure that no properties are empty, regardless of the financial cost and the need to change usage legislation."
Richard Perks, director of research, Mintel
"Portas has 28 detailed proposals, but look behind that and the thrust of the report is very sensible. Granted there's the dose of hyperbole that just seems unavoidable these days - the high street is certainly not in terminal decline, it may not even be in crisis. What's happening at the moment is a contraction which is almost entirely due to the recession. And in tough times that's what happens. The vacancy rates we hear so much about are mostly in secondary and tertiary sites because when high streets contract there is a general move to primary sites.
"But people still want to shop - that's why major shopping centres are so successful. And what is a development like Westfield's at Stratford but a brand new high street?
"So that is why Mary Portas is absolutely spot on when she says that high streets that want to survive must invest. Ideas such as more markets are excellent, because they add more excitement to the high street. No-one owes a retailer a living. No-one owes a high street a living. Consumers go to where they are best served - and that is as true of retailers as it is of high streets. A high street that gets no investment has no future."
Maureen Hinton, analyst, Verdict Research
"The major element behind the survival of the high street is how the consumer behaves and what consumers want. With retail growth halving every decade since the 1970s there was bound to be a fallout as the sector reached maturity. This, combined with the impact of online shopping, has led to an oversupply of space. Though these factors are behind high street decline, the main reason is consumers shop differently now to the way we shopped even 10 years ago.
"We want the convenience of large out-of-town supermarkets with plentiful, free parking and a full range of products. We also want premium shopping centres with a complete range of stores and leisure activities. These locations would not survive if we did not shop at them and taxing them more heavily will be a further tax on shoppers rather than retailers and landlords.
"Already we are witnessing a return to local shopping. The expansion of click & collect, (in particular Collect + whereby we can collect parcels from local stores rather than wait in for a delivery or go to the Post Office), plus the high costs of driving, are encouraging shoppers to stay local. Furthermore the ageing population, with falling pensions and less mobility, will want local services and stores."
Rupert Eastell, head of retail, Baker Tilly
"Retailers are being squeezed by increased rates and reduced traffic, and something needs to be done to help our high streets. The Portas report provides a call to action at a critical time.
"Regardless of whether you love her or hate her, Mary Portas' report should stimulate debate about the future of the British high street and if it leads to just one high street making changes for the better, it will be a success. Portas makes sensible and deliverable recommendations in her report, but change is not down to her. If anything, it is clear that councils, community partnerships, local chambers of commerce and businesses must work together, take an honest look at their local high street, and make the tough decisions about the changes necessary for positive momentum.
"High streets have not adapted to out of town shopping centres quickly or efficiently enough and are suffering due to increased competition from large retailers who can beat them on price, if not on ambience and customer experience.
"A certain level of social entrepreneurship will be necessary to reinvigorate our high streets. For example, many communities have regeneration or community cohesion programmes in place. Surely, if economic regeneration can be incorporated into these programmes, the combined profit motive will create safe and pleasant town centres, where local residents will look forward to spending time and money."
Jon Copestake, economist, The Economist Intelligence Unit
"Most will agree that the traditional high street format has become outdated. A decade of dwindling occupancies as well as the rising tide of internet shopping and consolidation among retail chains point squarely to this trend. It is also difficult to see what can counteract the convenience and value that internet and supermarket shopping offer, especially in these frugal times.
"Although consumers may focus on initiatives like "National Market Day" and parking schemes, supermarket chains will be more concerned with proposed central regulation of out-of-town developments and suggestions that big retailers mentor and assist small businesses".
Click here to see the 28 recommendations made by Mary Portas.
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