Portas Report sparks debate on town’s future

Linda Neal

Linda Neal

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RETAIL guru Mary Portas has published her report making recommendations to rescue Britain’s struggling High Street - but her findings have received a mixed reaction in Grantham.

The Portas Review, commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron, includes 28 recommendations to help retailers thrive in difficult economic times and in the face of changing shopping habits.

Grantham MP Nick Boles told the Journal he welcomes the report.

He said: “I think that it’s good that she did it, and it’s a completely different perspective from that of the government.

“The report doesn’t offer any easy answers, and in a sense there aren’t any because people’s habits are changing so quickly.

“What we need are different types of shop and different kinds of space.

File photo dated 14/06/10 of Mary Portas who is to lead a review aimed at developing 'more prosperous and diverse high streets' across the country, the Government announced today.

File photo dated 14/06/10 of Mary Portas who is to lead a review aimed at developing 'more prosperous and diverse high streets' across the country, the Government announced today.

“We all know that the little shops that succeed are the ones that have something special about them.”

Mr Boles said he was disappointed that Portas did not visit Grantham in response to a petition from Journal readers demanding efforts from the government to improve conditions for traders.

He said; “I tried very hard to get her to visit. She literally only went to two or three places in the end.”

Lincolnshire County Councillor Richard Davies believes the recommendations in the report do not do enough to address the immediate problems faced by the retail sector.

County councillor Richard Davies with the gift-wrapped chain presented to him by Ged McKnight.

County councillor Richard Davies with the gift-wrapped chain presented to him by Ged McKnight.

He said: “It all makes very nice television, but what she’s talking about is very flowery.

“I think we’ve gone beyond the point of getting together and having management teams.

“We have to accept that the town centre is going to change and one of the big drivers is looking at what the big shopping centres do, offer free parking. We’ve got to make it easy for people to get into Grantham.”

South Kesteven District Council leader Linda Neal told the Journal she has not yet read the Portas Review.

David Hindmarch

David Hindmarch

She said: “I knew she was doing a review, but wasn’t aware that it was complete.

“The council is working hard to try to help the town centre and the Grantham Growth project is our top priority.

“I’m not convinced by the free parking argument. It does create problems if you have free parking, like spaces being blocked up all day.”

Mrs Neal told the Journal that a review of parking in the district is being conducted, with results likely to be available later in the year.

Theresa Duggan is the owner of Eden Wine Bar, the Journal’s Business of the Year for 2011.

She said: “The government should get landlords to provide properties rent free for a year, helping businesses to grow and introducing step-by-step rent increases. If there was some incentive from the government to the landlords that would be a good idea.

Business Awards 2011 - Belton House.

Business Awards 2011 - Belton House.

“I haven’t known any business that I’ve been involved in to take less than three years to become established. You can’t go into business expecting to be able to earn from it on day one.”

David Hindmarch is the managing director of Grantham Estates, which owns a large number of retail properties in the centre of Grantham.

He said: “I think it was a fairly good report.

“The success of businesses is down to entrepreneurial flair of the people running them and the willingness of banks to lend.

“We do deals on rent all the time and I’m sure any landlord in the country would do a deal because you don’t want to be paying void rates.

One area where the government could help is to reduce business rates. They were last assessed in 2007 when the economy was going like a train, but now it’s not.”

l Do agree with the recomendations? What would you do to improve conditions on the High Street? Email us: comment@granthamjournal.co.uk