Portas Pilot towns hang on to 'save the high streets' cash

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The Independent Online

James Thompson

Nearly half of the 15 councils given a combined £1.5m of taxpayer money to revitalise their local high streets have not spent a single penny over the last 10 months.

This has raised further fears over the seemingly snail-like progress of the so-called Portas Pilots, ahead of one trial in Tower Hamlets in London being featured in the retail expert Mary Portas's programme on Channel 4 next week.

A total of 27 towns were each awarded about £100,000 last year following Ms Portas's review of the high street. The second tranche of 15 pilots had spent just 13 per cent of the £1,445,985 handed to them by 31 March, according to Freedom of Information requests, which follows a similar pattern in the first 12 towns.

Six of the 15 pilots, including those in Liverpool, Tiverton in Devon, Tower Hamlets in London, Ashford in Kent and Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland, have not spent any of their £100,000 grant received in July. The same applies to Brighton's £83,485 grant, while Morecambe in Lancashire has spent only £6,000 out of its £100,000.

Most of these councils said they had made progress, while Tower Hamlets pointed out that it only had its grant signed off in February.

The retail commentator Paul Turner-Mitchell said: "The rate of chain closures is increasing and we are seeing high streets turn into ghost towns. We want councils to mount an urgent fightback, but it looks like all they're doing is twiddling their thumbs."

Ahead of Channel 4's Mary Queen of the High Street on Tuesday, Ms Portas praised town teams for being "cautious" in formulating plans, and said: "The Portas Pilots are giving an opportunity to people to make change in their area and that is something that has not happened before."