Mary Portas Review ‘Recognises Complex Problems Faced By High Street’

Planning Expert Comments On New Proposals

15.12.2011

The impact of Mary Portas’s review into tackling the problems faced by high streets across the UK will depend very much on how ministers look to implement such proposals, a planning expert at Irwin Mitchell has commented.

Published this week, the review was commissioned by the Government in the midst of rising vacancy rates to consider how both ‘prosperous and diverse’ high streets can be created across the UK in order to improve business and the support they provide to communities.

Led by retail expert Mary Portas, the report includes a number of recommendations including better defining the roles of landlords and ensuring the rates system operates in a manner which helps small and independent businesses.

Commenting on its release, Holly Trotman, an associate solicitor and expert in planning at Irwin Mitchell’s London office, said the review covered many areas of concern which have affected retailers and landlords in recent years but also referenced issues raised in the past.

She explained: “The Mary Portas report is wide-ranging and recognises that the problems faced by the high street are complex.  However, as her report lacks much in the way of detail, the impact of her recommendations will very much depend on how the Government decides to implement them.

“A number of the suggestions are matters which have been repeatedly raised over the years in discussions around the town centre policies in PPS6, PPS4 and, most recently, the draft National Planning Policy Framework.”

Discussing specific aspects of the review, Holly added that the call for an explicit presumption in favour of town centres in the National Planning Policy Framework will not come as any surprise.

She outlined: “Portas has previously suggested the draft NPPF had 'softened' protection for town centres. Her views are likely to be supported by the major retailers – at least those who traditionally trade from the high street - and we expect the Government to take some steps to address these concerns when it publishes the final NPPF next year.

“The call for the Secretary of State to have an exceptional sign-off on all new out-of-town developments appears to be a plea for the Government to start using its call-in powers again. As Portas notes, there has been 146 opportunities since 2008 to review out of town developments, but only one was challenged in this period. Call-in serves as an important check on local authorities’ planning powers, which is particularly important in the context of Localism.

“In addition, a review of the Use Classes Order to offer more flexibility is likely to be widely welcomed.

“The retail and leisure classes are in need of review as they are based on outdated notions about the function of a town centre. In any case, if local authorities want to restrict the use of particular units or areas to prevent changes this can be controlled by planning conditions and obligations.”