TV star to advise on saving the high street

Death of the high street? Local campaigners warn that the recession and large companies are making it impossible for small independent businesses to survive.
Death of the high street? Local campaigners warn that the recession and large companies are making it impossible for small independent businesses to survive.

By Ian Dunt

The presenter of the Mary Queen of Shops programme has been drafted in to lead a review into the future of the high street.

Mary Portas was appointed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg to suggest ways government, businesses and local authorities can promote the high street.

"Empty High Streets are a blight on the local economy. Vacant shops are also a wasted opportunity with far reaching consequences," Mr Clegg said.


"When goods and services start to disappear our sense of community can be weakened and undermined."

Mr Cameron added: "I am delighted that Mary Portas has agreed to take on this review and I am confident that her straight talking, no nonsense approach will help us to create vibrant and diverse town centres and bring back the bustle to our high streets."

The British Retail Consortium raised concerns about the appointment however, citing critical comments the TV star made about Tescos.

"Independents are a vital part of an attractive retail mix, but so are the big names," director general Stephen Robertson said.

"Ultimately it's customers who have the power in retailing through the shopping choices they make. This review should not seek to restrict that choice by making life harder for any particular category of retailers."

Many local community campaigners resent the presence of large supermarkets on the outskirts of towns, which serve to drive traffic away from the high street and hit independent shops.

With the recession forcing many consumers to limit their spending, larger companies are also boosting their market share by offering products for lower and lower prices. Some commentators believe that British shoppers will be even more reliant on major chains once the economic downturn is over.

The review promises to address the issue of 'clone towns', together with vacant shops and the dwindling number of small and independent retailers in town centres.

Labour responded by tabling a new clause to the planning section of the localism bill, which will be debated in the Commons today, that it said would put "communities in control" of the development of their local high streets.

Shadow local government minister Jack Dromey said: "One of the things I hear from my constituents is how the character of the local high street has changed. The high street is not what it once was, they say.

"If the government means what it says, then it should accept our changes to the Localism Bill and give local people a real say over their high street."

Mr Portas' conclusions are expected in the autumn.

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