Not everybody's perfect, as I regularly have to tell my beautiful wife. So of course there will be those usual suspects who bemoan Mary Portas and Grant Shapps for not being radical, innovative or bold enough, not thinking 'outside the box' (I'd hate to live in a box) or for not coming up with solutions for terminal, irreparable town centre decline. Incidentally there is often a real lack of vision from those same protagonists, naturally it's much easier to criticise. The reality is that there is of course no silver bullet, never has been, never will be.
An example of falling into the trap of thinking there is one solution, or that there are some options that should be ignored by all, comes from Cllr Simon Cooke, great name so presumably a great and very able man. In a recent blog he claims it is absolutely the case that retail does not represent either a solution or a future for town centres and that planners and developers are attached limpet-like to big retail developments as some sort of salvation for struggling centres.
He is of course right, and wrong. Because for many towns big retail developments are definitely not the solution, nor are they a realistic aspiration as making a new retail scheme stack up financially in a top 100 retail location is hard enough, let alone many of the UKs marginal towns. However in some cases they of course can be, Leeds will undoubtedly benefit from the improved retail offer, and additional inward investment, resulting from Land Securities' Trinity Leeds development. As for consumers, do they want schemes like this? Well they vote with their feet, and Facebook likes (Trinity Leeds already has 1,800+ and it doesn't open until next year...), and many big retail developments are doing very well.
Now I'm not naïve, I understand the issues facing our sector, and we recognised very early on that these are structural and not cyclical. We've been saying since 2009 that in some locations there is a significant over supply of retail floorspace, which will ultimately need to be taken out of use for places to thrive. Government's intention to reform the restrictive use class order will naturally be part of the solution. As will the recognition in Portas, Government's response and industry commentators, including Julian Dobson, that we need to breathe life into towns and cities through innovative community led events, a planning system that encourages a range of uses in town centres (thank goodness this has been recognised in the final NPPF), a delivery infrastructure that already exists in many towns and cities and will be enhanced by Town Teams- not least in terms of knowledge transfer, and money for BID start up costs.
For us greater property owner involvement in shaping the places where they have investments is key, the good guys do this fabulously well, but then there are 'the others', and perhaps Mary's involvement and Government's endorsement will put creating vibrant town centres on a par as a political priority with collecting domestic refuse, and providing good social care (one can live in hope...)
My only disappointment (other than the lack of movement on business rate levels... but it's my strong intention to stay in a good mood on this gorgeous Friday so I won't dwell on this...) is that the Minister didn't seize this as an opportunity to argue that Pasty Shops need a greater presence on the high street. That way none of us could pretend not to know the price of Greggs sausage rolls (two for £1.60 if you were wondering)