East Anglia: Shop local campaigners welcome Mary Portas report on retailing

A WIDELY anticipated report on Britain’s struggling high streets is expected to praised Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and call for action over parking in order to reverse a trend away from town and city centre shopping when it is published today.

Suffolk local food campaigner Caroline Cranbrook and Paul Clement, executive director of Ipswich’s BID, known as Ipswich Central, have welcomed the general thrust of what is thought to be contained in TV retail expert Mary Portas’ report.

She was asked by the Government to carry out a review aimed at developing more prosperous high streets, and is expected to say that, in order to achieve that, high streets will need to be distinctive and have entrepreneurial drive. She is expected to praise BIDs as an example of entrepreneurialism in action.

A proposal for a national market day in a bid to promote street markets and help drive traffic towards shops and a relaxation of licensing rules for market stalls are also thought to be among the recommendations.

Ms Portas, star of BBC’s Mary Queen of Shops, is expected to suggest regulations on high street traders including restrictions on night-time deliveries, are axed in a bid to create a more flexible and attractive business environment.

Car parking charges are also expected to come under scrutiny, and the idea mooted of a possible tax on out-of-town shopping centre car parks. With people no longer needing to come into town, they need to be drawn there and encouraged to stay, she is expected to acknowledge, and this can be helped by mixed use centres, with restaurants, entertainment, caf�s, bars, leisure activities and offices, she is expected to argue.

Lady Cranbrook, who is currently opposing plans for an edge of town Tesco store at Walton high street, Felixstowe, said her understanding was that the focus would be on town centres rather than out of town trading.

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“That’s certainly something people on the high street have wanted for a long time, to have a level playing field,” she said.

Business rates, in relation to turnover, was far higher for independents than for supermarkets, she pointed out.

“I would welcome anything that discourages out of town supermarkets. We support development of national retailers in the town centres which brings people into the town but out of town centres take them away,” she said.

She hoped the report would lead to help for planners in providing strong guidance in favour of town centre retail and against out of town retail development.

“Planners need backing. If they refuse these big applications they need good grounds for doing so,” she said.

Ms Portas came under fire from council leaders in the run-up to the publication of the report for failing to consult with them. However, she is thought to have met with Mr Clement of Ipswich Central.

Mr Clement welcomed an acknowledgement that change is needed in town and city centres, and that BIDs are seen as “visionary”. “I have been saying for a long time that town and city centres need to fundamentally change,” he said.

Ipswich was “ahead of the curve” in having a well-established BID, he added. “I don’t agree with every aspect of what’s believed to be contained in the report, but the essence I do agree with,” he said.

Richard Dodd of the British Retail Consortium said there appeared to be “sensible ideas” in the report which could make a difference to many troubled high streets.