Free local parking, better support from the government on business rates, and mentoring for smaller shops from the larger retailers are among the recommendations from Mary Portas in her report on the future of the high street, published today (13th December).
The government-commissioned report has already garnered support from Waterstone's m.d. James Daunt who said it "holds much sense".
Independent booksellers have complained that high business rent and rates, the rise of online retailing and expensive parking are among the major challenges for bookshops trading on the high street.
Today the "Mary Queen of Shops" presenter recommended that local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes, and called for a parking league table to be created to make public which town centres are the most expensive.
The retail "guru" said that "more could be done" to make business rates work for high street businesses, observing: "Quite frankly, the costs of trading in many areas far outweigh the benefits of being in a town." However she stopped short of making a specific suggestion on how the government should move on the issue.
Portas said that landlords should better support their business tenants. "Both landlords and tenants need security and stability and a new contract of care should help to keep landlords’ properties filled and businesses’ profits following. I want to see a new relationship between landlords and business tenants, with landlords feeling like they have a stake in the success of their tenants’ business and a shared aspiration—essentially supporting them to thrive," she said.
She called for the idea of "alternative lease structures" to be investigated, increasing the availability of monthly rather than quarterly in advance payment terms, for business with cash flow problems.
With town centre vacancy rates doubling over the last two years and the total consumer spend away from our high streets over 50%, Portas is championing the idea of making the high street more of an entertainment destination, which is where out-of-town shopping centres such as Westfield has succeeded.
In her "vision" of what a successful town centre will look like, Portas said: "I want to put the heart back into the centre of our high streets, re-imagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, well-being, creativity and learning . . . The new high streets won’t just be about selling goods. The mix will include shops but could also include housing, offices, sport, schools or other social, commercial and cultural enterprises and meeting places."
Portas suggests establishing a National Market Day to encourage "talented people who have something to sell" and calls on the government to make it easier for people to trade at markets. "Instead of needing to jump through certain hoops of licenses and regulations, why can’t we proceed on the assumption that anyone can trade on the high street, unless there is a valid reason why not?"
Other of her recommendations include putting in place a "Town Team": a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets, empowering successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become "Super-BIDs" and running a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans.
Waterstone's m.d. James Daunt commented: "I've always believed that booksellers should be at the heart of the communities they serve, and that is exactly what we are doing with Waterstone's. Mary Portas obviously has a similar, strongly held philosophy and her report holds much sense."
The government is expected to respond to the Portas Review in the spring.