Boarded-up shops could become thing of the past

She is the Queen of Shops, soon to reign over Wolverhampton’s fortunes. ELIZABETH JOYCE looks at Mary Portas’ plan for the city

There are several empty shops in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre
There are several empty shops in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre

She is the Queen of Shops, soon to reign over Wolverhampton’s fortunes. ELIZABETH JOYCE looks at Mary Portas’ plan for the city:

But they will hopefully become a thing of the past for Wolverhampton after the city was named one of only 12 Portas Pilot towns nationwide.

Wolverhampton, which triumphed over local rivals Dudley, Bearwood, West Bromwich and Walsall in its bid to get the status, will now get £100,000 of Government cash and the leadership of retail authority Mary Portas. It currently has the fifth highest level of empty stores in the country.

But the decision has been met with dismay by the other towns in the region that missed out. They were desperately seeking help in boosting their fortunes.

Dudley North MP Ian Austin said: “Dudley had been hit hard by the recession and faced big challenges before that. But I’m afraid the government isn’t doing as many favours.”

Wolverhampton South West MP Paul Uppal said: “I can envisage the Portas Pilot being the catalyst to regeneration that this city desperately needs. This is an exciting opportunity for Wolverhampton.”

The £100,000 grant will be broken down as follows – £30,000 will be spent on places to trade in the city, £25,000 on support for existing traders, £20,000 on competition and entrepreneurial support, £15,000 on marketing and £10,000 on improving the “sights and sounds” of the city.

WV One, the city centre company that secured the winning bid, said match-funding of around £200,000 had also been secured to bring the total investment up to £300,000.

Chairman Peter Cutchie said: “This was a fantastic piece of teamwork which demonstrates how local organisations with a passion for Wolverhampton can join forces and commit resources to improve the city centre.” Wolverhampton was today named as a Portas Pilot town along with Bedford, Croydon, Dartford, Bedminster, Liskeard, Margate, Market Rasen, Nelson, Newbiggin by the Sea, Stockport and Stockton-on-Tees.

The city made another important stride in its bid to improve this week when an agreement to limit the number of “chuggers” came into force.

It means the number of charity fundraisers is now limited to a maximum of five collectors operating no more than three days a week. Research conducted by the city council suggested that a large presence of collectors was deterring people from coming into the city centre.

Meanwhile, the towns and cities that made unsuccessful bids in the Mary Portas scheme were today told not to lose heart as the best ideas and solutions from the pilots will be shared to help struggling high streets across the country.

Peter Drummond, president of the British Council of Shopping Centres, said: “With high street pilots being such a central plank to Mary Portas’ recommendations to Government, today’s announcement of the winning Town Teams is fantastic news. Local communities from up and down the country have submitted some incredibly innovative ideas designed to boost struggling high streets, and the enthusiasm demonstrated is to be applauded. We look forward to working closely with them in delivering these ambitious plans, providing free mentoring from within our membership and drawing upon the vast experience therein to maximise what can be achieved.

“However, importantly we consider this the first step in what should be a crucial ongoing initiative for Britain – both in the context of local community and the wider economy.”

Lisa Hill, from the West Bromwich Town Centre Partnership Board, said that to lose out was very disappointing.

“We can only carry on and try to improve West Bromwich as a partnership board,” she said. “We have got the regeneration of West Bromwich coming here so we can all work together and it a very approachable town centre.”

Those behind the Bearwood bid had hoped to create a new community interest company to help businesses and visitors. Traders who put together the bid planned to use a slice of the cash to establish a company on the High Street, dubbed The Hive.

The facility would allow visitors to see local art and music performances or provide a meeting place. In Staffordshire, Cannock, Rugeley and Hednesford recently got a £100,000 share of the £10 million High Street Innovation Fund, the separate pot of cash inspired by Mary Portas which aims to encourage new start-up businesses and bring empty shops back into use.

Meanwhile regeneration bosses at Walsall Council remain defiant despite being unsuccessful. A list of proposals had been drawn up by businesses and town centre champions in a bid to help tackle the number of vacant shops in the area.