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Issue 345 – Town council welcomes response to Mary Portas review

FROME’S response to the national Mary Portas report on how to help struggling town centres, has been welcomed by Frome town councillors. Ideas for Frome, which were compiled by Neil Howlett, president of Frome and District Chamber of Commerce, were presented to town councillors last week.

Retail guru Mary Portas released her report to the government on how to revive the high street in December. Neil Howlett suggested that Frome could take up some of her ideas which included ensuring the town centre is attractive, safe, and accessible; and creating a “town team” to manage the high street.
Frome Town Council commended the points which were picked up for Frome, and said that they are already working ton some of them.
Neil Howlett says that a market strategy for the town and attention to car parking charges are priorities for Frome.
He emphasised that Frome’s high street has not suffered as badly as other places, and that Frome has already identified many of the threats and solutions and already has plans and actions in place.
The concept of a ‘town team’, as a visionary, strategic, and strong operational management team, is already planned for Frome, who could work to make the town centre accessible, attractive, and safe. A town team could encourage larger retailers to mentor independent retailers, and encourage imaginative community use of empty properties.
However, he warns that some of the reports points are “potentially dangerous”. In particular, he worries about Mary Portas’ suggestion that developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system. He says, “Although Mary Portas identifies the problem correctly, this solution is dangerous. Requiring a contribution almost certainly also involves some control over how it is used, and other strategies for influencing decisions. The real problem is the ability of large retailers to hold planning authorities to ransom.
“The simplest solution to this would be control the costs of the planning appeal process – a cap on overall recoverable costs as can be applied in civil litigation and is applied in criminal cases, or a rule that the proportion of costs recoverable would reduce in proportion to the size/profits of the organisation. The government is already talking about “one-way costs shifting” in civil litigation on the basis that insurance can be obtained – that should be much more easily applied in planning disputes where the issues are usually ones of law. not evidence.”
Neil Howlett explained that he had attempted to respond to each of Mary Portas’ recommendations, but recognised that his list may not take into account the views of other members of the Chamber of Commerce.

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