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High Street Rescue Plan: Bid To Save Shops

(c) Sky News 2013

High street (BSE: HIGHSTREE.BO - news) shops are being given a stark warning - change, or join the growing list of casualties who have collapsed in recent months.

The Government is setting up a national Future High Streets Forum to make sure other retailers do not go the way of HMV, Blockbuster, Jessops and Comet.

Leaders from retail, property and business will try to come up with ways to revitalise town centres, building on work that retail guru Mary Portas has already begun in 27 areas of England.

They will focus on getting the High Street to adapt to meet the changing needs of consumers by offering mentoring.

Local Growth minister Mark Prisk said that involves understanding the biggest threat to retailers.

"We shouldn't underestimate the challenge the online market represents," he said.

"It's a growing part of all our habits as consumers. We must make sure high streets adapt.

"Government has a role in that, at looking to make sure, as we are, that we have strong planning, but also councils have a role, businesses have a role, landlords have a role. We want to bring them all together, drive this forward."

The forum will investigate ways of improving parking, allowing commercial landlords to turn part of their building into residential property to bring more people into town centres, and making sure high streets are given priority when it comes to planning decisions.

It will also look at ways to increase the number of pop-up stores, which is something that Pam Honour, who regularly visits one in central London, welcomes.

She said: "I think it's a lovely idea. It's a nice variety if you go past this street every day, see something different every couple of weeks. Marks & Spencer (Other OTC: MAKSF - news) changes its shop window every two days so why shouldn't a pop up shop do the same?"

Despite more of us turning to the internet to do our shopping, pop-up retailer Sophie Brittain said there was still a place for the high street.

She said: "You still kind of want the aesthetic, the touch, the feel, the smell. In our case we've got soaps and room scents and candles, but when you buy things online you can't know exactly what they're going to be like."

Another pop-up retailer, Nikki Connor, agreed, saying: "I think there's a place for both.

"People still like to go to the High Street and they still like to shop online for ease and to make sure that you get the size that you want, so I think there's room for everybody."

A £1m Future High Street X-Fund will be awarded to areas with the best ideas for rejuvenating their town centres. The winners will be announced in March.

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