Mary hails ‘turn around’ Rotherham

Mary Portas returns to Rotherham High Street to see what progress is being made through the town's Portas Pilot project. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1002/82f
Mary Portas returns to Rotherham High Street to see what progress is being made through the town's Portas Pilot project. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1002/82f
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Retail expert Mary Portas has accused the government of making ‘token gestures’ to rejuvenate Britain’s struggling high streets - and singled out Rotherham as a town that has turned itself around.

As a result of her review three years ago, 27 Portas Pilot areas were given funding to build more diverse town centres - but the results have been mixed.

She hailed Rotherham as a place where scores of people - volunteers and retailers small and big, council officials, market organisers and stall owners, community workers, landlords and developers - had “put their shoulders to the wheel and proved that doing something can make a difference.”

She added: “Their dedication has made the place they live, work, socialise and shop a place they can cherish and be proud of. And I am proud to have been part of this worthy effort with them.”

But she called for faster action on “crippling” business rates and for local councils to be given the power to take control of empty shops.

The Star and Johnston Press claimed victory in a campaign for a review of business rates.

In the autumn statement the Chancellor ordered a ‘root and branch’ investigation to start ‘imminently’.

But Mary Portas insisted more had to be done.

She added: “Why are we still imposing crippling business rates which were established in Elizabethan times?

“The current system is out of date and favours online and big business.

“Why do we have to wait until 2016 for a full review and who knows how long after that for a new system?”

The television star also issued a blueprint for high streets of the future - a formula that will be of interest to those seeking to develop a new retail quarters in Sheffield city centre.

She added: “I have always said that the battle to save our high streets isn’t just about shops. We will never just have high streets which just sell stuff.

“The mix will include housing, offices, leisure, schools, social, commercial and cultural enterprises. Towns up and down the country are try to do exactly that.”