Bloomberg News

U.K. Should Restrict Out-of-Town Retail Centers, Adviser Says

December 13, 2011

Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. retailers such as Tesco Plc and J Sainsbury Plc should face an “exceptional signoff” by the secretary of state on new out-of-town developments to help revive local shopping streets, a government adviser said.

In addition to tougher tests for project approval, any new out-of-town shopping centers should include space for small, local, affordable shops, Mary Portas, the consultant, said today. The National Planning Policy Framework should explicitly refer to a “presumption in favor of town-center development,” she said.

“We are now at crisis point, and I think people listen when you are at crisis point,” Portas, 51, said at press conference in London today to present her review into the future of Britain’s so-called high streets, or traditional downtown shopping areas. The 28 recommendations are aimed at “leveling the playing field” to allow towns to prosper again and counter a “semi-monopoly” in retail, she said.

Portas, whose Yellow Door consulting company has property firm Westfield Group as a client, was hired by the U.K. in May to help design policy to reduce vacancies in urban retail areas. Shopping has also changed because of “phenomenal” growth in online retailing, in addition to a slowing economy, Portas said. Town-center vacancies have doubled in the past two years, in contrast to out-of-town centers’ growth, she said.

“We sacrificed community for convenience,” Portas said. “There is no sense of belonging to our high street.”

‘Town Team’

The report is based on research among shoppers, local government authorities, landlords, retailers and town planners. Portas recommended that communities set up a “town team” of those players to devise ways of attracting shoppers, alongside reducing property-tax rates for new, small businesses.

“Its crucial we give these guys a foot up, a chance to develop,” she said, that adding Marks & Spencer Group Plc started as a market stall. “Let’s hopefully make new business of the future.”

Out-of-town retail floor space has grown by 30 percent in the past decade, compared with a decline of 14 percent in towns, Portas said.

Businesses should be given an easier way to reclassify property to encourage more creative use of space, such as leisure gyms, Portas said. “Contracts of care” between landlords and tenants, instead of just rent reviews, should be more widespread, with alternative lease structures specially for small businesses. She also called for further landlord “disincentives” to leaving units vacant.

The consultant also recommended offering free controlled parking in-town, more transparency on parking fees and pushing a “national market day” to encourage local entrepreneurs and bring so-called car-boot sales, a form of flea market, into towns.

Large retailers should provide details of support of local high streets in their annual reports, and be pushed to mentor local businesses, she said.

--Editors: Tom Lavell, Paul Jarvis

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Shannon in London at sshannon4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sara Marley at smarley1@bloomberg.net


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