News analysis – The Portas Review of the High Street

The key message from the Portas Review of the UK high street, conducted by TV star and retail expert Mary Portas, is, in the words of Portas, that ‘high streets of the future must be the hub of the community’.

High Street
The Mary Portas vision of the high street (taken from the Portas Review)

This should be achieved, Portas proposes, by shaking up the management of high street shops, and embracing retail concepts put forward by supermarkets and out-of-town malls, rather than setting against them.

The Portas Review, which has been in development since ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas was appointed to lead an independent review in May, sets out the familiarly depressing UK High Street statistics.

Nearly one in six shops is vacant, we are told, while high street footfall outside London has fallen by around 10 per cent over the past three years.

Portas points out though, that while the High Street itself may be in a slump, this doesn’t necessarily mean that retail itself is declining. E-commerce has accounted for nearly half of all retail sales growth between 2003 and 2010, while m-commerce has grown by more than 500 per cent in the past two years.

Mall developments such as Westfield Stratford are becoming ‘immersive 21st-century urban entertainment centres’, says Portas, while supermarkets now account for 97 per cent of all grocery sales.

Mary Portas
Mary Portas

So if you can’t beat them, join them, Portas seems to suggest.

Hence plans for ‘Town Teams’ – operational management teams for high streets, who would work to curate high streets in the same way that landlords manage malls. Portas says, ‘The high street has a lot to learn from the new malls – 21st-century urban entertainment centres. These malls understand how to curate a space and ensure that there is a balance of retailers so that the customer has a vibrant and diverse shopping experience.’

This high street management model is one that is already in place in a form in London’s West End, through the New West End Company, and on nearby Bond Street, through NWEC and the Bond Street Association.

When Design Week polled retail design experts earlier this year on how they saw the UK high street developing in the future Fitch executive creative director Stuart Wood highlighted the need for the high street to be a community hub, while Callum Lumsden made the radical-at-the-time-sounding proposal that mall operators like Westfield could be brought in to manage high streets. This proposal seems to chime well with the Portas Review.

And Portas’s proposals for ‘post office’ like high street depositories for online businesses sound a lot like recent pop-up developments such as e-Bay’s London shop.

Mary Portas with retail designer Callum Lumsden

Excitingly, in order to put her proposals to the test, Portas is outlining a series of High Street Pilots to test concepts such as the ‘virtual high street’, an online forum to get people to look at their high streets; the post-office style online retailer shops and proposals for big retailers to organise more community activities. (She also makes a rather left-field call for more high street bingo nights ‘Bingo is a brilliant way to bring people together for a bit of old-fashioned community fun.’)

Portas has a great track-record of working with designers in ventures such as her TV series Mary Queen of Shops. Let’s hope her next move is to work with these designers to turn her high street pilot schemes into reality.

You can read the full review here.

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  • Designalexable November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    There is no one size fits all: It is a matter of different solutions for different places. Sure, big shopping malls work – that’s why they exist. But, it is the actions of Local Councils, with their charges for parking etc that make it very difficult for the high street to compete with such places. The sad truth is that those who should act as carers for our urban environment, usually do more harm than good: – See:

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