With 11% of town centre shops now standing empty, TV retail guru, Mary Portas has stepped in to assist the government in a series of plans to rejuvenate Britain’s High Streets.
Portas, who is passionate about her role says: “I want to put the heart back into the centre of our High Streets, [they]… must be ready to experiment, try new things, take risks and become destinations again. They need to be spaces and places that people want to be in. High Streets of the future must be a hub of the community that local people are proud of and want to protect. My goal is to breathe economic and community life back into our High Streets and town centres. I want to see all our High Streets bustling with people, services, and jobs. They should be vibrant places that people choose to visit. They should be destinations. Anything less is a wasted opportunity.”
Appointed by the government last May to lead an independent enquiry into the future of the High Street, the resulting report – ‘the Portas Review’ was published six months ago. In the report, Portas suggests that the UK’s High Streets are at crisis point. She makes 28 specific recommendations to address this urgent situation, forcing the government to acknowledge that if action is to be taken then it must be done swiftly, before the High Streets decline any further. This month they announced their intentions to fulfil some of the recommendations in the review and help to get Britain’s once-bustling High Streets thriving again.
Setting up a new retail establishment involves a lot of planning and paperwork, with many deterred by the high levels of both rent and business rates associated with a prime location in the town centre. More and more shops are closing down and less people are heading for the High Street to make their purchases. The number of shops standing empty has given rise to a new form of ‘pop-up’ retail where temporary businesses are established in empty premises or mobile facilities – but setting up a pop-up shop is not as simple as it ought to be.
In the review, Portas suggests that it would be much easier for businesses to set up these transient retail units if there was less red tape involved. In a direct response to this, the government have relaxed the planning application laws associated with pop-up shops, giving businesses up to two years to apply for planning permission, rather than having to do so immediately. This allows them to get up and running very quickly and apply for permission retrospectively. The less time it takes for a pop-up retailer to get up and running, the quicker those empty units are filled and the influx of new shops will revitalise the whole area and draw people back into the town centre again. Obtaining planning in this way also allows pop-up shops to save money and spend more time focussing on establishing their business. Portas suggests that the High Street should be willing to experiment and focus on community and this new action by the government encourages a fresh type of shopping experience, removing some of the barriers to setting up a new business and reducing the amount of wasted empty retail spaces. And it’s not just retail units that are being set up, pop-up galleries and restaurants – which enrich communities – also benefit from this scheme.
In addition to the review, Portas is also overseeing a scheme called ‘Portas Pilots’ where 12 English towns have been given a share of 1.2 million pounds worth of funding to revitalise their own town centres – which Communities minister Grant Shapps says has “captured the imagination of the nation with communities across the country uniting to support their High Streets”.
Images above are taken from Diesel’s Pop-up store in Carnaby Street designed by Barber Design. This 6 week store with cardboard interiors encouraged locals to get involved with the design of the store and personalise with chalk and markers. Customers loved this space and it created immediate brand awareness for the client.