Retailers say Portas could limit growth

Kasmira Jefford
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RETAILERS and landlords have questioned calls by retail expert Mary Portas for measures that would stall out-of-town developments and create a “level playing field” with town centres.

In her long-awaited high street review commissioned by the Prime Minister in May, Portas said Britain’s high streets had reached “a crisis point” and warned they could “disappear forever” if urgent action was not taken to revive them.

In one of her more controversial recommendations, Portas said out-of-town planning applications should be “signed off” by the secretary of state for communities and local government and should also include an “affordable shops” quota.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, warned the measures were “unnecessarily restrictive” and “could tip the balance against some new developments being built”.

Landlords meanwhile welcomed reforms to planning rules that would make it easier to change the business uses of properties on the high street.

But Liz Peace, chief executive of The British Property Federation, said the review’s proposals against landlords from leaving units vacant “misunderstood” the problem.

“Policy on empty shops has become muddled and fails to differentiate between owners who can’t or won’t bring a property back into use,” she said.

Among her 28 recommendations, Portas encouraged councils to prioritise free parking and proposed a league table that shows those that take action.

John Walker, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The lack of affordable town centre parking is driving trade away from the high street to out of town retail sites.”

Portas also dropped the previously suggested proposal to tax out-of-town car parking.