Action plan for our high street

Christmas shopping in Blackpool despite financial difficulties.
Christmas shopping in Blackpool despite financial difficulties.
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CALLS have been made for high streets to be revitalised to save ailing businesses and bring life back to town centres.

Retail guru Mary Portas has compiled a report on behalf of the Government, urging retailers, local councils and landlords to work together and fill the empty shops or risk losing the traditional British high street.

She said: “Unless some urgent action is taken much of Britain will lose, irretrievably, something which is fundamental to our society, something that has real social as well as economic worth to our communities.”

Her 30-point plan includes easing planning restrictions on retail developments in town centres, making it easier to set up market stalls and reducing parking tariffs in shopping areas.

At the moment, 11 per cent of premises in Blackpool remain closed and Eileen Ormand, Blackpool’s Business Improvement District (BID) town centre manager, says the report raises important issues.

She told The Gazette: “It will add focus, especially towards landlords not leaving premises vacant.

“A lot of it is common sense and things we are totally aware of, but to see it written down will have a big effect in Blackpool.”

Mrs Ormand says groups are already in place on the Fylde coast to look into filling empty shops, but the report should help to kick-start interest in the schemes.

She added: “Mary Portas has a lot more influence in retail, and because the Government commissioned this report, there is a lot of power involved.

“We want to do whatever we can to help and there are a lot of members working together, but we have to take action soon.”

Steve Pye, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses Blackpool branch, says the report’s focus on reviewing planning and town centre parking and business rates, are key to re-invigorating high streets.

He added: “If we want to ensure vibrant high streets for the future, we need to carefully balance expansion with ensuring existing town centres are not unwittingly damaged.

“It looks like Mary Portas has really understood the challenge, and has put forward measures which should ensure the long-term sustainability of our high streets.”

But Blackpool councillor Gary Coleman, cabinet member for regeneration and urban development, says Blackpool is ahead of what the report suggests because its regeneration plans will aid growth in the town.

He said: “We are getting a lot of inward investment and we are bucking the trend with a new Sainsbury’s coming in and those jobs being secured.

“People bringing trade into the town will have a knock on effect and make Blackpool attractive.”