Town centre shops need help from Mary Portas

The government needs to do more to promote town centre shopping and place less emphasis on out-of-town retail parks, the Association of Convenience Stores says.

The trade body is calling on Mary Portas, the government’s so-called high streets tsar, to recommend “decisive action” on issues such as business rates, planning policy and parking, all of which affect shops in traditional town centres.

Portas, who will present her report at the end of the year, met ACS representatives today (Tuesday).

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “ACS supports the high streets review, and there is no doubting Mary Portas’s commitment to diverse and vibrant high streets. 

“The key to achieving this lies in effective planning policy and a fair approach to rates. There is a fundamental tension between out-of-town retail parks and community retailing, and this review has to get to the heart of this battle. Non-confrontational best practice advice will not suffice.

“We will continue to work with Mary Portas to promote radical changes around out-of-town parking, business rates and planning policy to ensure the future of our high streets.”

During the meeting, ACS presented research which reveals that while the number of out-of-town retail developments under construction has fallen dramatically, there is currently over 30 million sq ft of out-of-town development space at pipeline stage – enough to cover the City of London. Pipeline development in town centres remains at just over 7 million sq ft. 

Lowman added: “For every town centre development planned, there is currently almost four times as much space being allocated to out of town retail. These businesses are able to provide massive expanses of free parking at very little cost to them, while rates in town centres continue to drive people away.”