The Portas Plan: £1m to get UK high streets back in black

Riot-torn Croydon among 12 pilot projects to revitalise ailing town centres

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The Independent Online

Its town centre was set ablaze as rioters went on the rampage last summer, in some of the worst scenes of the riots. Now Croydon's shopping area is one of 12 selected by the retail expert Mary Portas to receive government funding.

Each of the so-called Portas Pilots will receive a slice of £1.2m to carry out plans to revitalise their town centres ranging from creating art projects to encouraging market traders.

Croydon wants to "transform the riot-stricken area's historic Old Town market into a thriving market, foot and cultural quarter" All of the pilot towns, which range from Dartford in Kent to Newbiggin-on-sea in Northumberland, will take on board some of the 28 recommendations made in December by Ms Portas. These included establishing a National Market Day to encourage budding shopkeepers and putting in place a Town Team to deliver a vision for a high street.

.The Government received 370 applications from groups, including local businesses, retailers and students, for the 12 pilots, which are backed by their respective councils.

However, there has been a large degree of scepticism towards the review of Ms Portas, not only because of the relatively meagre funding for the so-called "Portas Pilots", with no town getting more than £100,000, but also as some industry veterans believe her recommendations were not radical enough.

Robert Clark, a retail expert, said yesterday: "While £100,000 will help those pilot towns to show the improvements that can be made, this amount of money is neither here nor there. What is required is a more co-ordinated, long term approach that must include local businesses and landlords working together with town halls."

But Neil Saunders, the managing director at Conlumino, the retail consultancy, said the Portas Review had stimulated debate. He said: "If these pilot towns are successful there is the potential to roll these ideas out further."

The 12 pilot towns are: Croydon, Stockport, Bedford, Dartford (Kent), Bedminster (Bristol), Liskeard (Cornwall), Margate (Kent), Market Rasen (Lincs), Nelson (Lancs), Newbiggin by the Sea (Northumberland), Stockton on Tees (North Yorks) and Wolverhampton.