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The Portas Review An independent review into the future of our high streets

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The Portas Review 

An independent review into the future of our high streets 

Mary Portas 

December 2011 



The Portas Review 

An independent review into the future of our high streets 

Mary Portas 

December 2011 



Contents  

Foreword 

2  

Summary of recommendations 

5  

Introduction 

7  

My vision 

14  

Getting our town centres running like businesses 

18  

Getting the basics right to allow business to flourish 

25  

Levelling the playing field 

30  

Defining landlords’ roles and responsibilities 

33  

Giving communities a greater say 

37  

A few words of advice to Britain’s shopkeepers 

42  

Re-imagining our high streets 

44  

Acknowledgements 

47  

Contributors 

48   Page 1 

Foreword  

Seven months ago I was asked by the Prime Minister and the Deputy 

Prime Minister to conduct an independent review into the state of  

our high streets and town centres. 

I took on this challenge, in full knowledge that it would be complicated 

and controversial, for one simple reason – I believe that our high streets 

have reached a crisis point. I believe that unless urgent action is taken 

much of Britain will lose, irretrievably, something that is fundamental 

to our society. Something that has real social and well as economic 

worth to our communities and that after many years of erosion, neglect 

and mismanagement, something I felt was destined to disappear forever. 

I would like to state right from the start that this report is not about 

pointing fingers of blame. Whilst I do believe that there are many 

compelling instances when out-of-town retail has drained the traffic 

and retail offer from our town centres, it would be naïve and far too 

easy to simply think that they are to blame for the decline of our high 

streets. The fact is that the major supermarkets and malls have 

delivered highly convenient, needs-based retailing, which serves today’s 

consumers well. Sadly the high streets didn’t adapt as quickly or as 

well. Now they need to. 

I would also like to say that my report is not about nostalgia; nor is it a 

sentimental plea to nurture and protect small shopkeepers above all else. 

The days of a high street populated simply by independent butchers, 

bakers and candlestick makers are, except in the most exceptional 

circumstances, over. 

How we shop as a nation has quite simply changed beyond recognition. 

Forever. 

The phenomenal growth of online retailing, the rise of mobile retailing, 

the speed and sophistication of the major national and international 

retailers, the epic and immersive experiences offered by today’s new 

breed of shopping mall, combined with a crippling recession, have all 

conspired to change today’s retail landscape. New benchmarks have 

been forged against which our high streets are now being judged. New 

expectations have been created in terms of value, service, entertainment 

and experience against which the average high street has in many cases 

simply failed to deliver. These reasons alone conspire to create a new 

shopper mindset which cannot and should not be reversed.  Page 2 

The only hope our high streets have of surviving in 

the future is to recognise what’s happened and deliver 

something new. 

High streets are the heart of towns and communities. 

They have been for centuries. People are passionate 

about high streets. They may have different views 

on what’s wrong and what’s right, but I don’t believe 

anyone can put their hand on their heart and say they 

don’t care. 

With town centre vacancy rates doubling over the last 

two years and total consumer spend away from our 

high streets now over 50%, the need to take action 

has never been clearer. Although some high streets are 

thriving, most have a fight on their hands. Many are 

sickly, others are on the critical list and some are now 

dead. We cannot and should not attempt to save every 

high street but my findings have led me to believe that 

unless urgent action is taken, the casualties will only 

continue to multiply. 

Fundamentally I believe that our high streets are 

uniquely placed to deliver something new. I believe 

that our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting 

and social places that give a sense of belonging and 

trust to a community. A sense of belonging which, as 

the recent riots clearly demonstrated, has been eroded 

and in some instances eradicated. I also fundamentally 

believe that 

once we invest in and create social capital 

in the heart of our communities, the economic 

capital will follow

This review sets out what I think has led to the decline 

of our high streets, my vision for the future and the 

key things I believe we need to put in place to deliver 

that vision. 

Importantly, my vision aims to find and nurture 

tomorrow’s innovators and ideas that will create the 

new sustainable high streets of the future, seizing the 

opportunity that the current crisis presents and putting 

the mechanics in place to allow new talent to flourish. 

This report is the culmination of more than six months’ 

work on top of a lifetime of commitment to British 

retailing. This isn’t just a job to me. I know retail, 

I understand consumers. I’ve worked in retailing for 

30 years. But I’ve never had to look at the high street  

in this way before. 

When I started my work on the review, I ploughed 

through a huge pile of previous reports about high 

streets and town centres and found so many good 

ideas which have simply sat on the shelf. Pretty soon I 

realised why. What I discovered is the complexity and 

diversity of the problems faced by high streets. And I’ve 

learnt just how much of a complex web of interests and 

stakeholders are involved, many of whom have simply 

failed to collaborate or compromise. The end result in 

many cases is an asset we no longer respect, need, want 

or aspire to have. 

I have visited many high streets to see what the 

situation is for myself, listened to the concerns and 

ideas of local people and their councils, met with 

organisations and associations, large and small retailers 

and their landlords. I’ve also had more than 2,000 

online comments, as well as all the submissions and 

papers sent in as a direct response to the review. I have 

realised that any solution cannot be one size fits all. 

I’ve also realised that whilst it’s entirely natural to pick 

away at particular problems – to complain about the 

success of the supermarkets, bemoan the lack of parking, 

fight the inadequacies in the planning system and appeal 

to landlords to look to the long term – my review must 

crucially inspire people to seize the opportunity to 

innovate and embrace the change that’s necessary. 

The problems facing our high streets are complicated 

and sometimes overwhelming but it’s also not 

impossible – and I believe we can turn things around. 

In just seven short months I have seen how so much 

more can be achieved by communication, collaboration 

and compromise. The more people I have seen and 

spoken to, the more I realise that there is a massive 

appetite out there among people and organisations to 

get their hands dirty and fight for their high streets. 

To help them be the best they can be. 

Page 3 

This may sound hopelessly idealistic. But those who 

see high streets purely as a commercial retail mix need 

to think again. 

To free up the high street from constraint, to level the 

playing field, to mobilise landlords and give the consumer 

a voice in the process I have set out a number of practical 

recommendations which I believe will give the high 

street a fighting chance. 

I have also set out my concerns and solutions for the 

ongoing management of our town centres – if our 

high streets are to have a role tomorrow, then we will 

need to ensure their management is a match for the 

sophisticated alternatives. 

I hope to inspire the readers of my review with another 

vision of tomorrow and have suggested a process by 

which this vision could be tested and piloted across the 

country. A process in which I would be fully engaged 

with the time I have available. 

But most importantly, if my review is the catalyst for 

change, encouraging shopkeepers, landlords, local 

councils and consumers to engage with an alternative, 

more optimistic vision of tomorrow, where everyone 

benefits, then it will have been worthwhile. 

Mary Portas 

Page 4 

Summary of 

recommendations 

1.  Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong 

operational management team for high streets 

2.  Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on 

more responsibilities and powers and become “Super-BIDs” 

3.  Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by 

contributing to their Business Improvement District 

4.  Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers 

can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business 

5.  Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing 

unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street 

unless there is a valid reason why not 

6.  Government should consider whether business rates can better 

support small businesses and independent retailers 

7.  Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give 

business rate concessions to new local businesses 

8.  Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the 

RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI 

9.  Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes 

that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking 

league table 

10. Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, 

attractive and safe 

11. Government should include high street deregulation as part of 

their ongoing work on freeing up red tape 

12. Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it 

easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street 

13. Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own  Page 5 

14. Make explicit a presumption in favour of town 

centre development in the wording of the National 

Planning Policy Framework 

15. Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off” 

for all new out-of-town developments and require 

all large new developments to have an “affordable 

shops” quota 

16. Large retailers should support and mentor local 

businesses and independent retailers 

17. Retailers should report on their support of local 

high streets in their annual report 

18. Encourage a contract of care between landlords and 

their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing 

code and supporting the use of lease structures 

other than upward only rent reviews, especially 

for small businesses 

19. Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords 

from leaving units vacant 

20. Banks who own empty property on the high street 

should either administer these assets well or be 

required to sell them 

21. Local authorities should make more proactive use 

of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage 

the redevelopment of key high street retail space 

22. Empower local authorities to step in when 

landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop 

Management Orders” 

23. Introduce a public register of high street landlords 

24. Run a high profile campaign to get people involved 

in Neighbourhood Plans 

25. Promote the inclusion of the High Street in 

Neighbourhood Plans 

26. Developers should make a financial contribution to 

ensure that the local community has a strong voice 

in the planning system 

27. Support imaginative community use of empty 

properties through Community Right to Buy, 

Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right 

to Try” 

28. Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof 

of concept  Page 6 

Introduction  

The problems of high streets and town centres are well known and  

well recognised. There’s a wealth of knowledge which describes them,  

a wealth of associations aimed at protecting them and a wealth of 

opinions on how the problems should be resolved. But of the reviews  

I have read, and the stakeholders I have met, too few really dig into  

the fundamental changes in how we shop and how retailers large and 

small are now viewing and engaging with the high street as a route  

to market. 

My review has shown me that much of what we do know about high 

streets is stored within professional silos and relates specifically to 

particular stakeholders. The information lies stagnating and festering 

somewhere, and whilst there has been an awful lot of thinking about 

the high street most of it has been done in isolation rarely backed by 

any kind of creative vision. 

Boom to bust 

Research published alongside this review really digs into the reasons 

why we have seen such decline of our high streets, and makes an 

attempt to bring what information is available together in one place.

It’s clear that retail spending on the high street is falling and this trend 

is set to continue. 

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills/Genecon and Partners (2011) Understanding High 

Street Performance  Page 7 



Figure 1: Less than half of our retail spending is on the high street and this figure is falling 

Yesterday (2000)  

Today (2011) 

Tomorrow (2014*) 

5.1% 

49.4% 


28.1% 


17.4% 

10.2% 

42.5% 


31.5% 


16.1% 

12.2% 

39.8% 


32.3% 


15.7% 

Town Centre Sales 

Out of Town Sales 

Neighbourhood Sales 

Non-Store Sales 

Spending by Location, 2000 vs 2011 vs 2014 

Source: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills/Genecon and Partners (2011) Understanding High Street Performance. Citing  Verdict Research (2011) UK Town Centre Retailing and (2010) Out of Town Retailing. *Estimated 

Clearly the recession has had a big impact. Over the 

past few decades we have enjoyed a boom in retail and 

property values, fuelled by easy credit and rising standards 

of living. Many high streets enjoyed something of a 

revival and retailers seized the opportunity to widen 

their estate, opening look-a-like shops on every high 

street. This made casualties of the small independents 

who were progressively squeezed out, incapable of 

keeping up with the soaring costs of doing business and 

the sheer professionalism and polish of their larger rivals. 

The boom is over and the bust has exposed the 

underlying weaknesses in the economy, as well as 

problems of disconnection between property owners, 

retailers and local councils. We’ve seen stagnation and 

decline in many town centres and the closure of many 

high street brands. Consumers have had less money to 

spend in general, let alone on the high street. 

During the boom years many extremely mediocre 

businesses survived and flourished. Many of these are 

now gone from our high streets. Woolworths is a prime 

example. They simply hadn’t realised how to talk to the 

new value-conscious consumer and allowed the pound 

shops, many of which are seeing astronomic levels of 

growth, to pile in and steal their market share. A fact 

made all the more painful when one knows that 

Woolworths was in fact the original pound shop 

offering all its merchandise at a fixed single price. 

As a result, our high streets and town centres are now 

in a dire state: 

•  The number of town centre stores fell by almost 

15,000 between 2000 and 2009 with an estimated 

further 10,000 losses over the past couple of years;

•  Nearly one in six shops stands vacant;

•  Excluding Central London, high street footfall has 

fallen by around 10% in the last three years;

4

 and 

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills/Genecon and Partners (2011) 

Understanding High Street Performance 

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills/Genecon and Partners (2011) 

Understanding High Street Performance 

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills/Genecon and Partners (2011) 

Understanding High Street Performance  Page 8 

Figure 2: The downward spiral of decline on the  

high street 

Retail Store 

closes down 

Reduces Footfall 

in an area 

Surrounding 

Area Gets 

Weaker 


Weakens 

Performance of 

Nearby Stores 

Increases 

Likelihood of 

Further Store 

Closures  Source: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills/Genecon  and Partners (2011) Understanding High Street Performance.  Citing Colliers International. 

•  As well as independent retailers closing, new 

independents aren’t entering the market. The 

Competition Commission found that of the 565 

large grocery stores that opened between 2001 and 

2006, the vast majority – 99.5% – were opened by 

large multiple retailers. Only one in that whole time 

was independent and just three were co-ops.

Retailers need fewer shops 

The recession is not the only cause of the decline and 

we shouldn’t mourn the loss of poorly-run retail 

businesses that weren’t able to adapt to our 21

st

 century 

needs. An increasing number of shops are falling by the 

wayside as they fail to meet the expectations of today’s 

increasingly sophisticated, time-poor yet experience-

rich, consumer. And we are seeing a downward spiral 

of decline, as closures reduce footfall, weakening the 

high street and leading to more vacancies. 

Only a few years back we were concerned with what 

we saw as ‘Clone Town Britain’ where every high street 

looked the same, the unique DNA of our towns and 

villages lost in favour of convenience and a set of 

trusted, if not always truly revered, national chains. 

But new technological developments now mean that 

the internet is one of the key threats to retail on our 

high streets. Although internet sales currently account 

for less than 10% of all retail sales some estimates 

suggest that e-commerce accounted for nearly half of 

all retail sales growth in the UK between 2003 and 

2010, as internet access has become more widespread.

5 The Competition Commission (2006) Working paper on barriers to entry. 

Cited in Schoenborn A (2011) The Right to Retail: Can localism save Britain’s  small retailers? ResPublica 

6

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills/Genecon and Partners (2011) 

Understanding High Street Performance 

And we have seen dramatic growth in ‘m-commerce’ 

– sales over mobile devices – of more than 500% in 

the last two years.

Where retailers used to need 400 or 500 shops to touch 

the length and breadth of Britain, with the sheer power 

of the internet they now need far less. For example, 

as I write Sir Philip Green, CEO of Arcadia Group, 

has announced the reduction of his own retail estate 

as leases expire.

7

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills/Genecon and Partners (2011)  Understanding High Street Performance 

8

www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/business-15867924 

Page 9 

Figure 3: In 2015 we’ll be spending more than £40 billion a year over the internet and through mobile devices 

5,000 

10,000 

15,000 


20,000 

25,000 


30,000 

35,000 


40,000 

45,000 


£bn 

 e-Retail 

� 

m-Commerce 

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015  Source: Verdict Research (2011) 

A new book shows powerfully how the digital 

technology revolution is changing business and all 

our lives. De Kare Silver argues that this is, “gradually 

ceasing to be a bricks and mortar world”

9

 and shows 

that a 15% drop in store sales of most high street 

retailers pushes them below break even and into loss. 

It’s not just the small retailers; many businesses on the 

high street are feeling the pinch. 




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