Mary Portas and Bill Grimsey in high street battle


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The Independent Online

Retail expert Mary Portas will mount a vigorous defence of her efforts to revitalise the high street in front of MPs today.

The appearance of the self-styled “Queen of Shops” at the Communities and Local Government Committee hearing comes two days ahead of Bill Grimsey, the former chief executive of DIY retailer Wickes, who will unveil his alternative review of the high street on Wednesday. Mr Grimsey will present 31 recommendations designed to breathe economic life into town centres by focusing not only on enhancing the retail environment but also on healthcare, entertainment, education and housing.

While his review will include reform of the business rates system, car parking and access to funding for businesses, a key recommendation will be that the Government appoints a minister for town centres and the high street.

Mr Grimsey said: “This is not about criticising Mary Portas. This is about producing a comprehensive and in-depth document that politicians can use to revitalise the health of the economy.”

He added: “Town centres and the high street need a minister. At the moment it is appended to the Business Secretary and it is too big a department to append.”

The Government commissioned Ms Portas to produce a review of the high street, which she delivered to a fanfare in December 2011.

Of her 28 recommendations, the highest-profile was the so-called Portas Pilots, which saw 27 town centres receive grants of up to £100,000 to improve their high streets. But The Independent revealed in February that progress at many of the first 12 pilots had initially been slow, with some teams spending their grants on seemingly frivolous items, such as Dartford Council’s £1,610 hiring of a person in a Peppa Pig costume for a day.

Ms Portas was unavailable for comment.