The BBC recently commissioned LDC to complete some research on the Government funded Portas Towns, a project designed to aid regeneration in 12 towns across Great Britain. The research revealed that although the vacancy rate has decreased in 10 of the 12 towns (increases in Market Rasen and Croydon), collectively they have lost almost 1,000 shops five years on. Samantha Fenwick from BBC Radio 4's You&Yours program visits towns included in the scheme Stockport and Market Rasen to review how the towns have changed over the last five years.
In Stockport, there are a high number of vacant units, however the council continues to work on the town, rebuilding more attractive retail spaces for shoppers and reshaping the structure of the town by changing the use of the empty spaces.
LDC Director, Matthew Hopkinson was invited to Market Rasen this morning to discuss how towns can adapt to the changing times. Matthew's answer was that towns such as Market Rasen, where a high percentage of shops are independent, with a higher propensity to close, should have a clear strategy which takes the local economy into consideration at all times.
Further to BBC Breakfast's coverage, today's You&Yours program on BBC Radio 4 consisted of a 40 minute special on the Portas towns, in which Samantha interviewed Matthew Hopkinson, Mary Portas and various other stakeholders across the 12 Portas Pilot towns to find out their views on the project.
When asked whether she thought the project was a success, Mary herself still today sees the pilots as successful, but more as a way to raise awareness of some of the struggles that our local high streets are facing. Some have dubbed the project a 'weighted PR campaign' and have said that the amounts offered to these towns were never supposed to be the end answer, but a kick start for change and a start to the regeneration of these towns.
Samantha focuses again on Stockport and Market Rasen, talking to local retailers about their experiences and speaking to some of the volunteers who took part in the pilot projects across the chosen towns.
Despite recent coverage, market research has found that shoppers do still want to do some of their shopping on the high street. Councils need support to understand how they can best set up their high streets for success and support a nation of shop keepers.
To listen to the program, click here or the link below.