Expert sets out high streets vision

Bill Grimsey

The former boss of retail chains Wickes and Iceland has launched an alternative review of the high street after becoming "frustrated" with the current Government-backed programme.

Bill Grimsey, the stores' former chief executive, told BBC Breakfast he wanted to see "town centre commissions" that bring together housing, education, leisure and shops to shake up ailing high streets. %VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
His comments come after it emerged last month that 10 of the 12 Government-funded "Portas Pilot" towns saw a fall in the number of occupied shop units. The towns were awarded a share of the £1.2 million High Street Innovation Fund, launched last year, as well as Government support and access to retail guru Mary Portas following her review of the sector.

Mr Grimsey said: "I've become frustrated that these reviews have started from what I consider to be the wrong place. Fundamentally, we are changing as a society - the millennium generation is about to become the consumer of tomorrow."
He said high streets are under threat from online retailers, and the Portas review is "papering over the cracks" rather than attacking the "real issue" - that there are not enough people in town centres for communities to be vibrant in the future.

He added: "The whole argument that we'll be coming up with is that we need to see town centre commissions - not town teams as has been set up - that are properly constructed, that capture the imagination of the Big Community that David Cameron spoke about, that actually harnesses it into a proper process which encompasses the whole planning system which will deal with housing, education, leisure and some shops in a thriving town centre, which will be unique and different in every part of the country."

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said: "We welcome any contribution to the debate and new ideas that anyone wants to suggest. It is clear that our high streets will need to adapt to prosper.

"That's why the Government has worked hard over the past year to help high streets thrive - simplifying planning restrictions to get empty and redundant buildings in town centres back into use, cutting business rates for small businesses and scrapping Whitehall guidance that pushed for higher parking charges.

"We have also supported communities to develop projects to renovate their town centres. Pilots up and down the country are already showing what is possible, from Braintree developing parking initiatives, to Market Rasen backing an award-winning local market.

"But this is just the start and why we are bringing together experts from across the industry to sit on our Future High Streets Forum to help tackle the biggest challenges our town centres face."

© 2013 Press Association
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