The Portas Review: An independent review into the future of our high streets

Author Mary Portas

This notable review into the future of high streets and town centres, conducted by Mary Portas in 2011, explores the key structural challenges they have faced, and continue to face, presenting a vision for enhancing their future vitality and viability. It offers 28 key recommendations about how high streets and town centres can be transformed, including the creation of a town team, a national market day, and a more flexible use class system.

Date added 15 October 2020
Last updated 15 October 2020

This notable review into the future of high streets and town centres, conducted by Mary Portas in 2011, explores the key structural challenges they have faced, and continue to face, since this challenging climate has now been exacerbated further due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the backdrop of shop closures, rising vacancy levels, and declining footfall at the time of study, the report calls for transformation of our high streets and town centres by recognising the pressures they have faced and creating a new vision; as Portas argues (p.3):

"The only hope our high streets have of surviving in the future is to recognise what’s happened and deliver something new. High streets are the heart of towns and communities. They have been for centuries... I believe that our high streets can be lively, dynamic, exciting and social places that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community”.

The report draws on a range of evidence to explore the key structural issues leading to challenges for high streets and town centres, including:

  • The 2008 financial crisis.
  • The rise in online shopping.
  • The pressures of out-of-town retailing.
  • Changes in consumer behaviour (‘time-poor but experience-rich’).
  • Big supermarkets expanding into non-food retailing and services.
  • A loss of a sense of community on the high street.

Based on the above, Portas sets out a vision, alongside 28 recommendations, about how "to breathe economic and community life back into our high streets” (p. 13), including:

  • A national market day to make it easier for new retailers to trade.
  • Creation of a town team and strategic management system.
  • More flexible use class system to enhance diversity.
  • Mentoring for local independent businesses.
  • Get more people involved in neighbourhood plans.

At the heart of this vision, is a reimagining of high streets beyond a focus on just retail, in order for them to return to their original role as meeting points for the community (p.14):

“I want to put the heart back into the centre of our high streets, re-imagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning. Places that will develop and sustain new and existing markets and businesses. The new high streets won’t just be about selling goods. The mix will include shops but could also include housing, offices, sport, schools or other social, commercial and cultural enterprises and meeting places. They should become places where we go to engage with other people in our communities, where shopping is just one small part of a rich mix of activities”.