Press release

Bid to become a Portas Pilot

Struggling towns and cities across England are being handed the chance to breathe new life into their ailing high streets.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Illustration of a high street

(Image courtesy of Dermott Flynn).

Local Government Minister Grant Shapps and Mary Portas have launched a competition to choose 12 towns to become ‘Portas Pilots’, with the winners benefiting from a share of £1 million to help turn around their “unloved and unused” high streets.

Mr Shapps has offered the cash incentive to those towns that come up with the best High Street blueprints in a move that fulfils the first and last recommendations of Mary Portas’ High Streets Review, commissioned by the Prime Minister and published before Christmas.

Grant Shapps said:

Our high streets have faced stiff competition from Internet shopping, and out-of-town shopping centres - leaving them underused, unloved and under-valued. The Internet is not going to go away, and so for our high streets to survive they need to offer something new and exciting.

So today I’m offering a golden ticket to 12 town centres across the country to become ‘Portas Pilots’ - areas with the vision and enthusiasm to breathe new life into what should be the beating heart of their communities, and they will get Mary’s and my support as they try out the ideas in her recent review.

Mary 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. I hope my Review has inspired people with another vision of tomorrow where our high streets are re-imagined as destinations for socializing, culture, well being, learning as well as shopping. I want the first 12 Town Teams to challenge the old ways of working, experiment, take risks and reaffirm their place at the heart of a community. A place we all want to be and can be proud of.

Taking forward the first recommendation from Mary Portas’s review, the 12 successful localities will create Town Teams, made up of the key players in their local community - such as the council, local landlords, shopkeepers and the local MP.

These teams will then benefit from the backing of the minister, Whitehall and Mary Portas herself as they take forward the recommendations from the review and in their area. They will also receive a share of £1 million.

Grant Shapps added:

I want to see how these Town Teams plan to try new things, experiment and ensure that their high streets and parades become destinations for local people want to be. But these pilots are just the start. We want to learn their lessons and help communities across the country breathe new life into their own towns. Launching this competition now is a signal of our understanding that there’s no time to waste in driving forward these important measures.

Mr Shapps will give the full government response to the review by the Spring.

Successful bidders will need to demonstrate how they have the energy, enthusiasm and vision to make a real difference to their town centres and make them the hubs of their communities.

Areas will need to demonstrate how they plan to breathe new life into their high streets and shopping parades, but not just in a staid application form - Mr Shapps would also like to see their pitches to become Portas Pilots in short YouTube clips.

Watch a video about the Portas Pilots.

Video transcript (MS Word Document, 25.5 KB)

Notes to editors

  1. We are looking for pilots areas with a transformational vision for their high street and the backing to make it a reality. The lead partner should be able to clearly articulate this vision and demonstrate strong support for it from the local community and a wide range of local partners. The bids will need to show: * a mix of pilot areas: from a variety of town centres and high streets including market towns, villages, large towns, new towns, coastal towns and suburban areas; we also want to ensure a good geographical spread, as well as areas with both high/low average income levels and high/low empty shop vacancy rates * commitment: we are looking for bids to demonstrate maximum commitment to the town team approach * potential for improvement: resources will be allocated on a value for money basis and therefore areas must be able to demonstrate their potential for improvement * innovation: bidders are asked to provide an outline of what the key priorities for their pilot area will be; we are looking for the most innovative ideas and evidence of strong leadership that will have maximum impact and can be replicated elsewhere
  2. The Portas Review: an independent review into the future of our high streets was published on 13 December 2011. The review made ambitious recommendations on what can be done - by government, local authorities and business - to help high streets deliver something new. The focus is on putting the heart back into the centre of our high streets, re-imagined as exciting social hubs for shopping learning, socialising and having fun.
  3. The recommendations of the Portas Review aim to: * get town centres running like businesses: by strengthening the management of high streets through new ‘Town Teams’, developing the Business Improvement District model and encouraging new markets * get the basics right to allow businesses to flourish: by looking at how the business rate system could better support small businesses and independent retailers, encouraging affordable town centre car parking and looking at further opportunities to remove red tape on the high street * level the playing field: by ensuring a strong town centre first approach in planning and encouraging large retailers to show their support for high streets * define landlords’ roles and responsibilities: by looking at disincentives for landlords leaving properties vacant and empowering local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent * give communities a greater say: by greater inclusion of the high street in neighbourhood planning and councils using their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses
  4. The prospectus and application form are available online.

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Published 4 February 2012