The Portas Review – considered…

In this weeks Estates Gazette Retail supplement I was asked to comment on the Portas Review. This is a special edition for MIPIM week so relevant for what I’m up to! Here’s what I said…

The Portas review was a non-event, despite the self-declared Queen of Shops declaring a crisis point in our high streets in the second paragraph of her 55 pages. Most of my clients haven’t bothered with the report and many of my friends and colleagues have not heard of it. It will languish on the shelves shortly (despite her saying it won’t because she makes recommendations, “that won’t please everyone”)- a slice of fashionable opinion piece – with little in the way of substance. (forgive the pun)

I have nothing against Ms Portas, but this is a piece of work that could have delivered so much more.

There are lots of fatal flaws. One is in the the third paragraph. There is “no finger of blame being pointed”. We do have a strong hint that some of the Supermarkets and out of town stores might actually be to blame for the decline of the traditional high street – but for fear of upsetting them (was there some politically motivated, “you can’t say that” at play?) we don’t go there. It’s not complex Mary – the giant supermarkets at the edge of our towns are to blame for the decline of the high street. We have too many shops and not enough shoppers. We have an economy stalled. Online shopping is hitting home.

But my real beef is that there is little of substance – and what there is looks rather misplaced. As seems very fashionable we are encouraged to think that red tape is an issue. But don’t let that stop Mary having “Super-BIDS”, Legislation to allow landlords to sit on BIDS, “Town Teams”, “Parking League Tables”, reasearch into out of town schemes, “contracts of care”, a “public register of landlords”, “Empty Shop management Order” ad nauseum. That sounds like lots of committees and red tape to me?

But my real beef is the tilt at landlords. Sweeping statements such as “they [landlords] would rather leave a unit empty for years rather than considering discounting its rent”. Or “the use of comparatives in setting rent levels is often unhelpful”. Apparently the “upward only rent review…is unhelpful where a struggling entrepreneur is interested in staying in a property for 15 years…”

Landlords need to sign up to the Code of Leasing Premises too.

Mary – your ‘ideas’ are out of date. Landlords, in my experience, find any deal they can at this time. How do you want rents to be set – a lottery perhaps? entrepeneurs don’t, in my experience sign 15 years leases – and the upward only rent review argument has long since died. The Code is, in my view, rarely followed because people don’t want lots of choices. They want a clear offer – and they negotiate. Hard!

The lack of understanding about the Planning system is breathtaking. I think she suggests we bin the Use Classes Orders – so that we can have “housing, offices, schools and sport” on our high streets. We can’t have Betting Shops though – they get a battering. Markets and car boot sales find favour – allowing anyone to set up stall where they like (although how this helps us fill empty shops is lost on me).

This was, in my view a lost opportunity. I think this was a ‘safe’ political document – there is no brave new world here – some hints of it, but nothing of note. And God forbid that we end up with “Malls” as the only way to shop.

4 comments on “The Portas Review – considered…

  1. Tim
    I heartily agree with your views here. I think it also points up the folly of having an economy which relies on retail shopping carried out on tick and not on actually producing things. You said it – too many shops and not enough shoppers, and you could add, and now online too, and the cheap credit is no longer available. This is a train wreck wating to happen in the broader economy.

    • Thanks Richard, there has been a lot of talk at MIPIM this year about the report and most people I spoke to just think it was a soft and politically ‘safe’ report. It didn’t really add anything – just tried to meander through the minefield in wooly socks!
      I hope you are well!

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