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Will Mary Portas save Lancaster's shops?

John Freeman

Retail expert Mary Portas - regarded by many as the UK’s foremost authority on retail and brand communication - has been challenged by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to undertake an independent review on the Future of the High Street – to help ‘bring back the bustle’ to our town centres.

And with town centre vacancy rates doubling over the last two years, the need to take action to save our high streets has never been starker - and both Lancaster and Morecambe face the same problems as many other towns, judging from comments left on her official website.

As founder of one of London’s most respected retail & brand communication agencies, Yellowdoor, Mary is recognised throughout the trade as the Queen of Shops. For her third and final BBC series of Mary Queen of Shops, Mary took on the supermarkets by rescuing six British shopkeepers and showcasing their struggle to stay in business in June 2010. She's now got a new show on Channel 4.

"I am calling on business, local authorities and shoppers to contribute their ideas on how we can halt this decline in its tracks and create town centres that we can all be proud of," Mary challeneges.

"If you’ve got something to say about the state of our high streets – be it an observation, insight, initiative or idea – please add your own contribution to the debate."

Lancaster City Council has a duty to monitor the health of its town centres and to monitor the need for new retail development and  is broadly seeking to direct new retail development to existing centres, both to expand Lancaster’s retail offer in a planned expansion and to promote the regeneration of Morecambe. The challenge planners face is to do it in a way that doesn't destroy other retail offerings - which is the argument levelled against the Centros proposals for Lancaster's Canal Corridor, thrown out by the government in December 2009.

High business rents, car parking and a decline in the city's retail offerings are all issues which affect shoppers desire to visit city centres - and Lancaster and Morecambe are affected by these issues as much as other towns and cities.

Some Lancaster business people have already posted comments to the page, including Mike Dent of Ubertechs.

"You are not going to get great town centres without getting businesses in to the empty shops.
You are not going to get businesses in to these shops unless they can afford the rent.

"In Lancaster (small city up north) a small shop in the centre of town is circa £30,000 rent per year. This is the main reason why shops cannot survive. Who can afford that kind of rent and sustain a good business? I can think of a few but they are certainly not the smaller businesses which you need.

"Get these costs driven down (somehow) and you will see the town centres be in a position once again to flourish."
• You can leave comments about retail development on Mary Portas' Future of the High Street page

• Lancaster City Council: Retail and Town Centre Monitoring
This page includes links to various reports on retail development for Lancaster.
The City Council surveys all shops in Lancaster and Morecambe annually in March and also continuously monitors completions of new retail development.
From time to time, the Council also carries out retail capacity studies and town centre health checks. The last full retail study and health check was the Lancaster Retail Study carried out for the Council by White Young Green in February 2006.
White Young Green carried out an update of the convenience and comparison models in the Lancaster Retail Study in June 2009.

Lancaster City Council: Retail Development Issues 
An overview of 'Policy ER4' which defines the District’s shopping hierarchy and Policy ER5 defines the Council’s approach to new retail development and outlines the problems it has identified.