Reflections on the Portas Review

The Portas Review, an independent review into the future of our high streets by Queen of Shops Mary Portas was published recently and made for a thought-provoking read.

The review is incredibly relevant to the work of The Glass-House and the groups we support. One of the main areas of focus is just how important high streets and town centres are and how much they can contribute to creating sustainable communities and places. The review states:

“Our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting and social places that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community”

Portas highlights how high streets can and should be places where people mix and engage with each other and their local area. High streets have historically been importance places for social and commercial interaction and if they are made “accessible, attractive and safe” they can be again. There is also a call for planning and regulations to encourage meanwhile use of empty space and cheap market stalls for small businesses but to more explicitly discourage out of town developments.

The review stresses that high streets should form a key part of any neighbourhood plan and that neighbourhood planning as a concept should be better explained to local people to encourage them to get involved. Portas feels that communities should create a strong vision and brand for their high streets – to give them recognisable identity and character which will guide their development and create better places.

The focus on local people taking action and collaborating to improve their high streets is where The Portas Review really chimes with our work. It calls on all relevant stakeholders (the public sector, landlords, retailers and the public) to come together to make their high street work for them, whatever their interest may be. Portas also explains that through her research, she has found that the biggest successes have been where excellent communication and collaboration between local people are in place. There is a good balance in the review between encouraging local communities to take action and an appreciation that they will need local backing and wider support to be successful. Like us, Mary Portas believes that communities will be successful when they are ‘inspired and empowered’ to create change.

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What strikes me having read the review is the potential local people have to make some really positive changes to their town centres and high streets. The recommendations are overwhelmingly positive, given the context they are written in, but there is a recognition that structure and guidance are required for local people to achieve change. The review seems to echo our organisational values:

“The public should no longer be seen simply as customers but as co-creators of place. At the heart of it, will be you”

It will be interesting to see how much of this potential is realised – hopefully with the right support, local people can be at the heart of changes to their town centres.