December 12 2013 Latest news:
By Paul Clement
Friday, September 27, 2013
Don’t blame Mary, it is up to us to take action
“She was only in it for the money” and “she wants to take the High Street back to a bygone era” have been amongst the accusations targeted at her.
Isn’t that so often the way? We build someone up and then cannot wait to shoot them down.
How very English.
That is not to say that I thought everything she recommended in her eventual report was correct. For example, her obsession with markets was slightly over the top; and her drive to transfer powers from local authorities, such as compulsory purchase abilities, was ill thought through.
However, I am not sure that her 28 recommendations were ever intended as a panacea.
Her role was to use her TV fame to draw attention to the problems in our High Streets and to start a debate about how we can all help fix them. It is a big problem and something that the Government could easily have filed away in the ‘too hard’ drawer. Maybe she has lined her own pockets as a result, but without a name like her the topic would not have received the focus it needs.
If you go beyond the media hype, her report actually reaches a series of sensible conclusions.
Firstly, as a nation we like our town centres and want them to work. Secondly, we have to prioritise the consumer and make them places where people want to be, can get to easily, and can stay in for as long as they want.
Thirdly, each place is different and many of the solutions lie locally. Finally, costs to occupiers need to come down so that in-town is at least comparable (if not cheaper) to out of town.
The danger now is that, in what seems like a concerted effort to bury her and her report, we move away from this vital topic.
A recent report labelled Ipswich, amongst others, as a town that relies hugely upon its central area for jobs, skills and wider economic activity.
By all means move on from Mary, but stay focussed on our town centres.