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Business News

Review into high street attacks Portas plan

Ex Focus boss warns against 'false hope'

Bill Grimsey, the former chief executive of the DIY chain Wickes and Iceland stores, has attacked the retail expert Mary Portas for giving "false hope" to Britain's high streets. His comments came as he launches an alternative review of the troubled sector today.

The retail veteran accused the Government and the television presenter of "trying to keep a failed model on a life support machine", arguing that the inexorable shift to shopping online means the high street as we know it today is "dead".

He has assembled a team of retail experts to lead the review, which has already been endorsed by Andy Clarke, the chief executive of the grocery giant Asda. Mr Grimsey will submit his report to the three main political parties in the autumn.

His work is set against grim prospects for many town centres, where one in seven shops is vacant, according to the Local Data Company. Mr Grimsey argues that high streets need a "complete solution" that encompasses health centres, education, housing and leisure.

He said: "Retailing has to be part of the solution but not the main driver. With the growth of online and mobile sales, as well as the big out-of-town mall culture, it is futile to start with the premise that retail will remain the dominant force on high streets, because it won't."

He stated: "We have simply got too much retail space in this country already."

The Government and Ms Portas have unveiled a series of initiatives focused on reviving town centres. The highest-profile of these are the so-called Portas Pilots, which saw 27 town centres receive grants of up to £100,000 to revitalise their high streets.

Ms Portas hit back yesterday. She said: "If Bill Grimsey reads my report properly, he will see that I talk about a new business model that is required for the high street. It is about a multi-functional high street across learning, health and well-being, housing and some retail."

She added: "It is not a failed model. What the Portas Pilots have done is to put this on the public's agenda to make people think about the importance of their high street and to trial new ideas. And I am proud of what has been achieved by the British public."

Ms Portas and Mr Grimsey have a history of trading blows on Twitter and at Retail Week's conference. On Monday, she said: "Does the Government need to do more? Yes, it does, and if Bill Grimsey wants to get on board to do this, I will welcome his input. Maybe he should take the time to read my report instead of shouting from the lip."

Mr Grimsey said he is not being paid to conduct the review and wants to "help put something back" into the retail sector, in which he had a career spanning more than 45 years.

While his review intends to deliver proposals covering the planning system, local government and access to finance, a key thrust will be reform of business rates.

Mr Grimsey's team includes Nick Hood from Company Watch, Paul Turner Mitchell, the retail commentator, and LDC's Matthew Hopkinson.