Further 15 towns accepted as Portas Pilots

The government has announced a second wave of towns that have been accepted into the Portas Pilots scheme aimed at reviving the UK’s high streets.

A further 15 town centres have been selected to participate in the scheme which will see them share £1.5 million in funding to help improve their town centres. This takes the total number of Portas Pilots to 27.

The 15 new pilot areas have been announced as Ashford, Berwick, Braintree, Brighton, Hatfield, Royal Leamington Spa, Liverpool, the Waterloo area of central London, Forest Hill in south London, Tower Hamlets, Loughborough, Lowestoft, Morecambe, Rotherham and Tiverton.

Local government minister Grant Shapps said: “I’d like to congratulate the 15 town teams that, in the face of stiff competition, have been selected to be the next Portas Pilots.”

The scheme received over 370 applications following a report by Mary Portas on the state of the UK’s high streets. Those not selected will be able to bid for a share of a £5.5 million pot for individual projects.

In addition to the government funding, the pilots are being supported by the British Retail Consortium which is offering the towns a free package of benefits for the initial 12 months of their existence. This includes access to the BRC’s suite of retail-sector performance statistics and intelligence on the legislative agenda.

British Retail Consortium director gGeneral Stephen Robertson said: “The Pilots are a good start towards meaningful action which could help town centres turn their fortunes around. Announcing more Pilots will provide a wider platform of support for regeneration across England and we want to back that by pledging our own package of practical help to them at no cost.

“Offering the 27 access to our valuable business information will help them better manage and plan their activity, making it more likely they can deliver the revival we all want.”

Jon Copestake, retail analyst from the Economist Intelligence Unit comments,“Given the small sums involved this looks more like a Government PR exercise than an appropriate measure. The average grant of £100,000 per town is equivalent to the amount Home Retail Group would spend on refurbishing a single Argos store. The larger proposed investment of £5.5m is still a drop in the ocean compared to the needs of the high street. Store occupancy rates hit an all-time low this year and tens of thousands of lots are empty. With the structural challenges shops face and a further slump in GDP announced today, the high street will be hoping for more than piecemeal funds of this kind.”

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