Portas Pilots scheme doubles up

TODAY is the deadline day for towns to bid for a slice of £1million to help their ailing high streets, with Alnwick, Amble, Morpeth and Berwick among the bidders.

And the Government has announced that there will be a second round for the Portas Pilots scheme – devised by retail guru Mary Portas – as part of its response to her High Street Review released today.

Alnwick and Amble are both hoping of being in with a chance of scooping up to £100,000 as one of the first 12 Portas Pilots, but there will be another chance.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps confirmed Ministers are accepting the vast majority of Mary’s recommendations – but that they intend to go further with a raft of new incentives, funding schemes and bureaucracy-busting measures, all in a bid to rejuvenate the country’s run-down high streets.

In what Mr Shapps referred to as a ‘Portas-Plus’ response, a new package of help has been drawn up including:

• A multi-million pound High Street Innovation Fund – kick-started by £10million of taxpayers’ money focussed on bringing empty shops back into use - which, if supplemented by both councils and landlords, could see £30million going to support new business start-ups while bringing empty High Street properties back into use

• A £1million Future High Street X-Fund, which will be awarded in a year’s time to the locations which deliver the most creative and effective schemes to revitalise their high streets

• A National Markets Day, launching a National Markets Fortnight, to celebrate the role markets can play, help aspiring entrepreneurs try out their business ideas, and encourage more visitors to town centres

• A £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts, to help Town Centres access loans for their set-up costs

• Launching a further round of Portas Pilots, to trial some of Mary’s recommendations and come up with new ideas to breathe life into underused high streets. This is in response to the massive interest from hundreds of locations across the country, sparked by the competition for the first wave of 12 pilots launched last month.

Grant Shapps said: “Today, I’m accepting virtually all of the recommendations from Mary Portas’s review - but I’m also going that one step further, offering a ‘Portas-Plus’ deal, with a range of measures designed to help local people turn their high streets into the beating hearts of their communities once again.

“Mary Portas’s review made crystal clear the stark challenge our high streets face. With internet shopping and out-of-town centres here to stay, they must offer something new if they are to entice visitors back.

“Her report has provided the catalyst for change that many towns have been craving. I now want to see people coming together to form their own town teams and turning their creative ideas into reality to ensure their high streets thrive long into the future.”