Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Mary Queen of Shops plans for high street revival

Mary Portas, best known for the Mary Queen of Shops TV series, has published her report and recommendations for revitalising the high street. She was asked to do so by the government which is concerned about the increasing problems faced by town centres.

Ms Portas' key recommendations are to have affordable town centre parking and 'town teams' to improve the overall offer to visitors. One of the key reasons for the success of out of town shopping centres is that they combine shopping with other leisure activities. The US has known this for many years and most shopping malls have cinemas at their heart.

Cornwall Council is already doing some things very well. The town centre manager previously employed just for Newquay is now providing advice to towns across Cornwall. He gives thoughts on things like co-ordinated offers and town centre refurbishment and has provided good ideas for Launceston among other places.

But on other issues we are still heading firmly in the wrong direction. The key one is parking where Cornwall Council has insisted on yet another 3% rise in their overall take despite the disastrous performance this year.

I think Ms Portas is quite right to point out that traditional high streets are simply not an option for many shops today. A town like Launceston has lots of relatively small units. But the big stores need a large floorspace in order to make any money and so they are interested in out of town areas or not at all. Where our town can really succeed, however, is in its specialist shops. Philip Warren might be the most obvious example, but we have a wide range of independently owned businesses and the potential (hopefully) to attract more as well as some of the national firms that can fit into smaller spaces.

But what Ms Portas makes abundantly clear is that we need a co-rodinated approach to making our high streets work. We can't simply abandon them to 'market forces'.

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