Honiton too good for Portas Pilot

PUBLISHED: 14:33 28 February 2012

Mary Portas.

Mary Portas.

Archant

Business leaders and councillors snub invitation to bid for share of government cash. They say High Street is neither under-used nor unloved.

No thanks, Mary!

Honiton boasts one of the best high streets in Devon and does not need a helping hand from retail guru Mary Portas, says Honiton Town Council.

Members of the council’s policy and finance committee on Monday night recommended Honiton does not take up an invitation to bid to become a Portas Pilot town.

The mayor, Councillor Vernon Whitlock, said: “I think we have got one of the best high streets in Devon.”

He said cash, put up by the government, had to be spread across 12 towns and cities and added: “Do we want to be putting a lot of work in with the strong possibility of not getting it?”

Councillor Vivienne Ash said the town’s shopping centre lacks the infrastructure and street furniture to support it.

She added: “It seems to me, if we had the money to have the icing on the cake, we could say the town has done so well helping itself.

“If we had the extra money think what more we could do.”

She said securing the money would make the town even better.

A final decision will be made by the full council next month, but business leaders have already rejected the idea.

Honiton already boasts a vibrant shopping centre and is unlikely to be a suitable candidate to become a Portas Pilot town.

That is what business leaders agreed when an invitation to Honiton Town Council to take part in a government-backed competition was explained.

Through a bidding process, the contest aims to give 12 high streets across England the chance to implement recommendations set out in the Portas Review.

Aimed at struggling towns and cities, the “golden ticket” scheme wants to breathe new life into ailing high streets.

Competition winners will receive a share of £1million, as well as the backing of shopping guru Mary Portas and the Local Government Minister, Grant Shapps.

A meeting is to be held to discuss the viability of Honiton taking part in the competition, but Honiton and District Chamber of Commerce and Industry is not convinced a bid would be successful or in the town’s best interest.

Executive members heard at their February meeting, held last Wednesday, that “Honiton would probably not be a suitable candidate”.

They said Honiton is “already viewed as a vibrant town”.

The competition is seeking to transform “unloved and unused” high streets - a description that business leaders do not believe applies to Honiton High Street.

The Government has put up the £1million in prize money as a cash incentive to get towns to come up with blueprints for their high streets that reflect recommendations made in the Portas Review.

Mr Shapps said: “Our high streets have faced stiff competition from internet shopping and out-of-town shopping centres, leaving them under-used, unloved and under-valued.

“The internet is not going to go away and, so for our high streets to survive, they need to offer something new and exciting.”

Mary Portas says she hopes her review has inspired people to “re-imagine” high streets as destinations for socialising, culture, well being and learning, as well as shopping.

“I want the first 12 towns to challenge the old ways of working, experiment, take risks and reaffirm their place at the heart of a community,” she said.

Midweek Herald reader Alex Jackson said: “High Street is a great asset, but needs more national chains to keep people, especially the younger generation, shopping in Honiton.

“Less charity shops would also make it more appealing.”

Former market trader Mike Jones said: “I was forced to end my business due to a drastic decline in trade.

“I did not find there to be much support from the town council which scrapped seasonal pitch rates for a single price, hitting our pockets in the quietest times of the year and forcing traders to put their prices up to cope with this."

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