The Internet will kill off the high-street stopping as big chains will never return
Big chains won’t return to high street because of rise of online shoppers, says Portas
Retail guru insists she is not a politician and cannot make change happen
Bill Grimsey of DIY chain Wilkes and Iceland accused her of being ‘foolish’
His alternative report warns 20,000 independent shops risk closing down
He hopes technology and business rate reform will transform High Street
By MATT CHORLEY, MAILONLINE POLITICAL EDITOR
PUBLISHED: 17:08, 2 September 2013 | UPDATED: 08:21, 3 September 2013
Big chains will never return to the High Street due to the rise of online shopping, according to the government’s retail czar tasked with turning them around.
Mary Portas, the self-styled Queen of Shops who carried out a review for ministers on how to rejuvenate town centres, admitted there had been a ‘tsunami’ of closures.
She blamed ministers for not acting on her plans which included tax incentives for businesses to open in town centres, cutting red tape for market traders and bingo nights.
Miss Portas told MPs yesterday she was ‘naïve’ to think the government would act on her proposals and sometimes wished she ‘hadn’t put my name to it.’ She had written to the Prime Minister about the tepid response.
Miss Portas said the proliferation of out-of-town supermarkets with free parking and cheaper online goods would kill chain stores in small and medium-sized towns.
Despite more closures in ten out of the 12 towns where her plans were tried she said high streets could still be saved by ‘creative thinking, and different types of shops’.
The Queen of Shops has also complained to MPs that it was ‘unfair’ that she had taken a ‘bashing’ for a review she carried for free for the government.
It came after she was slammed as ‘nostalgic’ and ‘simply foolish’ by Bill Grimsey, the former boss of DIY chain Wilkes and supermarket group Iceland, who said her rescue scheme was ‘little more than a PR stunt’.
Miss Portas was asked by David Cameron to suggest ways to save the high street.
Her report, published in December 2011, was greeted with mixed reactions by the sector.
Today she appeared in front of a powerful body of MPs to answer questions on how her recommendations are faring.
But she insisted her report was more a ‘catalyst for change’ which had raised the profile of the problems high streets.
‘I am not the saviour of the high street,’ she told MPs. ‘I am a champion of it. I cannot do this on my own.
‘I believe in the high street and that they are an important social infrastructure and part of the community in this country.
‘I have taken a huge bashing for the work I have done for nothing. I think it is quite simply unfair.’
She added: ‘I was travelling the country and seeing what was happening and because I work in consumerism and marketing I could see we were going to have a crisis that was going to hit.
‘The high street has been in decline for the last 20 years.’
Mr Grimsey will present an alternative report this week, in which he warns that 20,000 independent shops are at risk of closing down.
But Miss Portas brushed off the criticism, joking: ‘I must have done something to him in a previous life.’
Bill Grimsey, the former boss of DIY chain Wilkes and supermarket group Iceland, said Miss Portas’s rescue scheme, which has been in effect for almost two years, was ‘little more than a PR stunt’ TV star Mary Portas’s attempts to rejuvenate Britain’s ailing high streets were last night slammed as nostalgic and simply foolish
Mr Grimsey, who has spent the last three months writing his alternative review of the high street, said the Portas plans ‘promised the earth but delivered little’.
Since her report was published eight household names, including Comet, HMV and Blockbuster, have all collapsed, leading to thousands of job losses, he said.
In his rival report, to be published on Wednesday, he says: ‘It was clear to me that Portas failed to highlight to the Government the dramatic structural changes impacting the retail industry through the convergence of changing consumer behaviour driven by technology and brought about by the prevailing economic conditions.’
Yesterday he said: ‘When I set out to offer an alternative review of the high street, I knew our team had to start from a position that wasn’t clouded by sentiment…nostalgic dreams of a high street rebirth based on old-style bricks and mortar retailing are simply foolish.’
Instead, Mr Grimsey wants to use technology to help revive the high street.
One of his 31 suggestions include an application for smartphones that lets the users see parking spaces and which stores have offers before going to shop.
He also wants to reform business rates – a heavily-criticised tax on the industry – as well as making parking easier and appointing commissions that will be given the job of drawing up a 20-year business plan for their community.
He said: ‘We can’t rely on retailing to be the saviour of town centres any more. We need a more holistic solution.’
He added: ‘Our review is nothing to do with the magic notion of saving Britain’s high streets.’
When she launched her plan in December 2011, Mary Portas saw her suggestions derided.
Lord Wolfson, a Tory peer and chairman of clothing chain Next, said that some of her recommendations were ‘downright dangerous’ and ‘economically naïve’.
Philip Dorgan, a highly regarded analyst at broker Panmure Gordon said: ‘The headline ideas don’t seem to be that intelligent – it is all very bizarre – as though a GCSE student has written a report on the High Street.’
He added: ‘Will it revive the fortunes on the High Street? No, of course it won’t.’