The “Save the High Street” campaign, a government sponsored experiment led by TV presenter and retail shop expert, Mary Portas, has proved a failure, as the towns involved in the trial have seen 1,000 shops close in five years.
The idea was to show that with the right approach, the application of good town centre management principles, markets, coffee shops and community cafes, and the rejuvenation of a few key shops, trade would increase by attracting more footfall and other shops would follow.
The experiment started in 2012, selecting twelve towns which presumably were thought to have the potential to show the most improvement: Bedford, Croydon, Dartford, Greater Bedminster, Liskeard, Margate, Market Rasen, Nelson, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Stockport, Stockton-on-Tees and Wolverhampton.
All have since gone on to lose nearly almost one-in-five (20%) of their shops, that’s according to research group, Local Data Company’s data. This rate of decline has exactly matched that of the rest of the country.
The government-backed plan involved a £1.2million government grant which was thought would transform these centres back into the thriving retail hubs they once were.
The campaign was launched in a blaze of publicity by Mary Portas, based around her TV performances as the “Queen of Shops”, the 12 towns involved were each given £100,000 to bring about this town centre transformation.
However, controversy soon reigned as Ms Portas accused the Government of just using her campaign as a PR exercise, but not backing it up, as she saw it, with its policies, namely not reducing business rates.
She has lobbied the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, to cancel the recent increases in business rates, predicting that they would kill off 33% of shops. Ms Portas told The Daily Telegraph:
“It feels like there was this great splash from Government, that they were getting behind businesses. But they can’t say that and then treble rates.”
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There were reported to be around 15 shop closures a day across the UK in the first half of 2016 and new shop openings fell to the lowest level in five years, according to research by the Local Data Company.
Over the period covered by their 2016 report, produced by accountancy firm PwC and the Local Data Company, BHS went into administration, which increased the figures, but these were still a small proportion of the whole.
The retail mix is changing, and other shops still opening are giving town centres a different character from before. Matthew Hopkinson, the director of the Local Data Company, has said:
“The spaces left by the traditional occupants of our high streets are being increasingly filled by health care operators, food and beverage operators and the ongoing rise of the discounters.”