'Personality' of towns is key factor in growth

Town centres must stop just trying to copy Oxford Street if they are to recover from the economic crisis, according to a Business Department-backed report to be launched this week.

Building on Mary Portas's work to revive high streets that now have one in seven shops lying empty, the report argues that businesses and local politicians need to work out the "personality" of their areas in order to better meet the needs of local residents and visitors. For example, a university town would need planners and businesses to open plenty of pubs and clubs to keep the town centre buzzing, but would also have to cope with higher levels of minor crime.

Diane Savory, chair of Gloucestershire Local Enterprise Partnership, which helped to compile the report with the British Retail Consortium, said: "Businesses need to realise that the high street isn't just about shopping, but about things like feeling safe to walk down the high street."

Nigel Jobson, head of property at Supergroup, added: "There was a time when all towns thought that to be successful they needed to be like Oxford Street, but that's not the case. The onus is not just on the retailer… but on, for example, the local authority to improve the streetscape and car-parking."