£1m Portas project to revitalise high street 'missed opportunity'
A flagship project to rejuvenate high streets spearheaded by retail guru Mary Portas has been a "missed opportunity", according to a think tank.
Liskeard in Cornwall was one of 12 government-funded "Portas Pilot" towns to be given a share of the £1.2 million High Street Innovation Fund to rejuvenate their shopping areas last year.
Policy Exchange said although the idea was a "good one" many of the towns only spent 7-12% of the funds available.
The report said: "This seems to indicate that the pilots lack a transformational edge, and that local authorities may not be best placed to run such projects."
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The team behind the "rebirth" of the South East Cornwall town had spent £41,000 of the cash by June, with the biggest proportion of that money spent on organising a festival in the town.
Chairman of the Liskeard Town Team, Sally Hawken, said they were " extremely proud" of what had been achieved.
But they also come across a number of stumbling blocks, including difficulties in persuading landlords to offer empty shops to start-up businesses for rent-free periods, which was a basic aspect of the team's original proposals.
The report's authors Alex Morton and Gerard Dericks stated: "Thus far, the pilots seem to have been largely unsuccessful. There has been a tendency to spend money on conventional ideas such as creating local loyalty cards. The pilots have been too small-scale to really take off."
More than 400 towns made applications for funding and business support following a 2011 report by Ms Portas which described the High Street as being at crisis point.
A study by BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme recently found that in ten of the 12 towns had seen a fall in the number of occupied shop units.
Ms Portas told the programme: "There is no simple solution to the crisis on our high streets. There are no quick fixes but 400 towns up and down the country are working on different plans to try and reinvigorate their high street. Let's celebrate their achievements so far and learn and share ideas. Real change will take time."
The right-wing think tank also found the Town Centre First policy intended to revive the high street, was raising the cost of living for the average household by at least £1,000 a year. Its report said the policy had pushed up costs by "discriminating" against out-of-town outlets.