'Crisis' on high street laid bare
The state of the UK's high streets has been laid bare after a government-commissioned report described some town centres as "dead", with huge increases in the number of empty shops.
TV retail expert Mary Portas said it was too late to save every high street but warned that casualties will continue to increase unless action is taken to tackle the "crisis".
She recommended a series of measures aimed at revitalising high streets and shopping centres struggling to attract customers in the face of growing competition from the internet and out-of-town sites.
Research published by the Government to mark the report showed that a third of high streets were "degenerating or failing", and that by 2014 less than 40% of retail spending will be in town centres.
Ms Portas, presenter of the BBC programme Mary Queen Of Shops, said the high street had been "displaced" by out-of-town shopping centres, without anyone considering the impact of such a huge change. Community had been sacrificed for convenience and there was now no sense of "belonging" to a local high street, she added.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the Government will review the report and respond next spring, adding: "The high street should be at the very heart of every community, bringing people together, providing essential services and creating jobs and investment; so it is vital that we do all that we can to ensure they thrive."
Ms Portas made 28 recommendations which will now be studied in detail by the Department for Communities and Local Government and other Whitehall departments. She said that among the most important were suggestions that town teams should be established, praising the system in France where senior officials protect town centres.
She also called for the removal of unnecessary regulations to make it easier for people to become market traders, cuts in business rates and a parking league table so shoppers could see how their town compared on charges.
British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said: "Prioritising action on business rates and parking is exactly right. These are the key concerns for customers and retailers."
Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Business rates are a significant barrier for many businesses and could damage our high streets. The 5.6% increase in rates planned for April is pegged to last September's peak inflation figure, and will be difficult for many retailers, already squeezed by a fall in consumer spending."