Grant Shapps calls for Portas Pilots

by Daniel Jones

A new government-backed scheme is being launched to encourage more businesses to sign shop lease agreements and breathe new life back into the UK's high streets. Local government minister Grant Shapps unveiled a competition to choose 12 towns to become "Portas Pilots", with the winners receiving a share of £1 million to turn around their shopping streets.

With firms given incentives to put their names to new shop lease agreements, the minister hopes the initiative will help kick-start a high street revival. The scheme, Mr Shapps says, fulfils two of the recommendations in Mary Portas's High Streets Review, which was commissioned by the prime minster last year.

The 12 successful bidders will create Town Teams, which will be made up of key stakeholders, such as the council, local landlords, shopkeepers and MPs. These teams will then benefit from government support and the backing of Ms Portas herself as they take forward the recommendations from the review in their area.

Mr Shapps believes this scheme could mark a turnaround in the fortunes of the UK's struggling high streets, which face growing competition for consumers' cash from the internet and out-of-town shopping centres. "The internet is not going to go away, and so for our high streets to survive they need to offer something new and exciting," he said.

"But these pilots are just the start," the minister added. "We want to learn their lessons and help communities across the country breathe new life into their own towns."

Ms Portas said: "I am thrilled that now there is an opportunity to turn my recommendations into reality by giving communities across the country the opportunity to come forward with their vision for breathing new life into their locality."

The British Retail Consortium welcomed the announcement, but warned there is no "magic bullet" to solving the problem of falling sales on the high street.

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Published on: February 6, 2012

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