By SEAN POULTER
Disappearing high streets? David Cameron and Mary Portas walk through the street market in Camden, north London, today as her report on the decline of the town centre is published
Britain has too many shops and thousands will have to close, according to the retail guru hired by David Cameron to save the nation’s high streets.
In a report containing 28 recommendations to halt their decline, Mary Portas said they had reached ‘crisis point’ with the rise of super-malls, out-of-town supermarkets and internet shopping.
But she warned town centres would never return to their traditional image of butcher, baker, greengrocer and fishmonger.
Instead, they would have to be reinvented, with shops turned into gyms, crèches, youth clubs, arts buildings, coffee bars and community town halls. Planning rules would have to be relaxed to allow shopping parades to be cleared for house building, while schools could move into empty shops and offices.
The Portas Review on the future of the high street also recommends encouraging car-boot sales and markets in town centres and reducing parking charges.
Twenty-five thousand shops have been lost in the past ten years, and Miss Portas warned many more would go because families had switched to malls, supermarkets and the internet for shopping.
‘Yes, we have thousands too many shops. They will have to close and do other things,’ she said.
‘So I have come up with a model that gives an opportunity for other types of business to come on to our high streets.’
She said town centre vacancy rates had doubled in the past two years and more than 50 per cent of consumer spending took place off high streets
Mr Cameron and Miss Portas discuss the her report on the decline of town centres in a cafe in Camden today
Vanishing town centres: Mr Cameron talks to a stall holder in Camden today as Miss Portas, left, unveiled proposals to reinvigorate the high streets
Mr Cameron poses for a photograph with restaurant staff in Camden after visiting with high street guru Mary Portas 'Queen of Shops'
Miss Portas added: ‘The big boom years are over. We will never go back to those retail shops we had. The future is not more shopping.
‘I am not going to be nostalgic about our high streets as they will never be what they were.
‘We need to stop seeing our high streets as just shops. We now need to get people back into our high streets and that requires creating a place that is about enjoyment, creativity, learning, socialising, wellbeing, health.’
Food for thought: Ms Portas said in her review, presented to David Cameron, that the Government had only called in one out of town development since 2008 even though it had been given the chance to review 146 schemes
Miss Portas wants planners to support town-centre development ahead of new malls. This includes a recommendation for all mall applications to be referred to ministers for scrutiny.
Miss Portas said she was worried the big supermarkets no longer sold only food, ‘but all manner of things that people used to buy on the high street’.
She added: ‘My concern extends to the progressive sprawl of the supermarkets into needs-based services such as opticians and doctors’ surgeries, which were once the exclusive preserve of the high street.
‘These critical high street and town centre services must not be simply gobbled up by major supermarkets.’
Depressed: Boarded up shops in Swindon, Wiltshire. Mary Portas complained that many areas had been 'clone towns' and said the recession was giving an opportunity to create something new
A bustling Oxford Street in London. Ms Portas said she wants people to look at shopping in a different way, and create 'multi-functional social and shopping' high streets
‘The big supermarkets lurk like a shadow over this report’s ambitions,’ he said.
‘Experience suggests that more checks and balances are needed to keep the retail market open for new and local enterprise.’
Phil Dorrell, director of the retail consultancy Retail Remedy, said shopping malls had replaced the high street. ‘It’s a battle that town centres have already fought and lost,’ he said.
‘Faceless and bland they may be, but out-of-town shopping centres have the irresistible gravity of convenience – and free parking.’
Shops closed in Stoke-on-Trent: A report found that one in three shops are empty in some parts of the country, with one in seven shops nationally remaining vacant over the past year
Cirencester in the Cotswolds, pictured, has some of the lowest shop vacancy rates in the country alongside Falmouth in Cornwall and Clapham Junction in London
WH Smith is a dump, says Portas
WH Smith, the high street chain with a history dating back to 1792, is ‘a dump’, according to Mary Portas.
The language is distinctly more colourful than most government tsars would use at the launch of an official review. But Miss Portas insists her criticism, first made on Twitter in November, remains valid.
Then, she wrote: ‘I truly hate WH Smith. Used to be a loved British biz & now a dump. Rush hour, 7.45am at Euston. One person on till. Queues. And s****y promos.’