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13 December 2011

Portas Review offers hope to England's ailing high streets

Reference number: PR/2011/73

FSB News Release
PR 2011 73
Issue date: Tuesday 13 December 2011

Portas Review offers hope to England's ailing high streets

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has welcomed the findings in the Portas Review of the high streets and urges central and local Government to take action as soon as possible.

In its submission to Mary Portas, the FSB stated that the review offered the opportunity to make the key policy recommendations needed to protect the UK''s high streets, which are at the heart of our communities. So the FSB is delighted to see the focus on planning, parking and business rates in her findings – it is here where real change can be achieved. Added to that, simple steps, such as National Market Days and removing regulations to make it easier for people to trade in the high street, will help to reinvigorate our high streets.

As the FSB has long argued, getting these policies right is key to revitalising the country''s high streets.  It is through reform in these areas where the FSB believes real change can be achieved, by creating jobs and encouraging investment. But this can only happen if central and local Government put these recommendations in place as soon as possible.

John Walker, National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said:

On a stronger ‘Town Centre First'' policy:

"The planning system is hugely important in shaping the character of our high streets and town centres and so our local communities. It is vital that the Government and councils take note of these recommendations – in particular that the provisions in the new National Planning Policy Framework are strong enough to provide the protection needed since there has been a notable shift towards out of town retail developments in the last 10 years.  If no action is taken, the trend is set to continue.  If we want to ensure vibrant high streets for the future, we need to carefully balance that expansion with ensuring that existing town centres are not unwittingly damaged. It looks like, through this review, Mary Portas has really understood that challenge, and has put forward measures that should ensure the long-term sustainability of our high streets. What we need now is for it to be translated into action, especially locally."

On reforms to out of town parking:

"The lack of affordable town centre parking is driving trade away from the high street to out of town retail sites. In a recent survey of FSB members, 50 per cent said that the availability of parking had a detrimental effect on their business. We have to think carefully at how we address this. Putting in place free controlled parking schemes and introducing a parking league table could go some way in doing this. But it will only work if the wider reforms in the Portas Review help to ensure the variety and choice on the high street that consumers want."

On reforms to business rates:

"We welcome the calls to review the way the rates system can better support small businesses, and to encourage councils to offer targeted interventions to attract and retain small retailers that add diversity to our local high street. This is exactly the sort of pro-active local action we have been calling for. The key is going to be encouraging councils to use these powers: not all councils fully utilise their existing powers to help local businesses with their rates as it is. One of the challenges will be getting councils to use their new discretion to target discounts and award reliefs if they fear it will directly affect their revenue streams. We need councils to do some long term thinking about the benefits of creating resilient and sustainable high streets and town centres in their local communities.  Help in the short term can reap benefits further down the line."