Last edited 20 Nov 2020

Portas Review: an independent review into the future of our high streets

High streets and town centres have been facing increasing challenges from the expansion of online shopping and the development of out-of-town retail centres, and in some areas, this has led to significant decline.

On 13 December 2011, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills published: The Portas Review: an independent review into the future of our high streets.

The review by retail expert Mary Portas was commissioned as part of the coalition government’s growth agenda and set out Portas’ views on the decline of high streets. It was published alongside ‘Understanding High Street Performance’ a piece of Government-commissioned research, which revealed that a third of high streets were degenerating or failing and that over the previous decade out of town retail floorspace had increased by 30% while in town floospace had shrunk by 14%.

The Portas Review described a vision for bringing economic and community life back into high streets and town centres, re-imagining them as social hubs for shopping, learning, socialising and fun. It made 28 recommendations about how to deliver that vision intended to:

  • Get town centres running like businesses.
  • Get the basics right to allow businesses to flourish.
  • Level the playing field.
  • Define landlords’ roles and responsibilities.
  • Give communities a greater say.

In the Review, Portas wrote; ‘With town centre vacancy rates doubling over the last two years and total consumer spend away from our high streets now over 50%, the need to take action has never been clearer. Although some high streets are thriving, most have a fight on their hands. Many are sickly, others are on the critical list and some are now dead. We cannot and should not attempt to save every high street but my findings have led me to believe that unless urgent action is taken, the casualties will only continue to multiply.’

Portas said, “I don’t want to live in a Britain that doesn’t care about community. And I believe that our high streets are a really important part of pulling people together in a way that a supermarket or shopping mall, however convenient, however entertaining and however slick, just never can. Our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting and social places that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community. Something which, as the recent riots clearly demonstrated, has been eroded and in some instances eradicated. I fundamentally believe that once we invest in and create social capital in the heart of our communities, the economic capital will follow.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said, “The High Street should be at the very heart of every community, bringing people together, providing essential services and creating jobs and investment; so it is vital that we do all that we can to ensure they thrive. I am delighted that Mary Portas has produced such a clear vision on how we can create vibrant and diverse town centres and breathe life back into our high streets.

On 30 March 2012, DCLG published the government’s response to the review. This challenged local partners to re-imagine their town centres and high streets to offer something different from out-of-town shopping centres and the internet and outlined a package of measures to help high streets reclaim their role at the heart of communities. This included setting up the twenty seven Portas Pilots and 333 Town Team partners to test different approaches to revitalising the high street.

On 9 July 2013, a year on from the launch of the Portas Pilots, DCLG published The future of high streets: progress since the Portas Review which summarised progress that had been made and the next phase of action.

However, the pilots received some criticism and it was reported that 2 years into the initiative, the 12 pilot areas had 53 fewer shops than when it began.

In May 2014, In her essay, ‘Why Our High Streets Still Matter’ Portas responded to criticisms pointing to some of the successes that high streets and town centres which had followed her recommendations had achieved, and criticising the government for the slow speed of providing funding and guidance.

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