England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

12 “Portas Pilot Towns” announced


**Update** A bunch of residents have set up a portaspilots.com website. It is an “unofficial record produced by us, residents of these places, about how the Portas Pilots have changed the places we love – and how that experience could help other places”.

Over the weekend the twelve town centres select to the be the first Portas Pilots were announced. Full details can be found on the DCLG website.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps toured the TV studios to praise “the exceptional quality of the winning bids”. In fact, he was so impressed with the 371 applications that he announced a second round of Portas Pilots, with 15 more town centres to be chosen later in the year.

Each town will receive a slice of the £1.2m fund. They will then, with the help of Mary Portas, the television presenter and Government’s ‘High Street Tsar’, use the money to try to liven up derelict shops, start new markets and advertise shopping areas.

The pilots will also form part of a television series, fronted by Ms Portas. 

The twelve town centres are listed below, with a brief description of what they are aiming to achieve.


Bedford’s Pilot aims to put a ‘buzz’ back into the town centre with many vacant shops. One key aspect of the bids is to take one of the empty shops and turn it into a show case, sales and support unit for all the other businesses on the High Street and those who aspire to be part of it. Large businesses will support and mentor small independent retailers, and a contract of care between landlords and their tenants will be encouraged. They will also start more imaginative community use of empty properties, building on ‘We are Bedford’ events, which use empty shops as art venues, to create a platform for fledgling businesses and a new pride and ownership of the town centre.


Riot-stricken Croydon’s Portas Pilot will help transform the area’s historic Old Town market it into a thriving market, food and cultural quarter, emphasising local heritage. The Pilot aims to attract people from the nearby business district and new housing developments by providing the practical everyday essentials that are missing from local high street shops alongside interesting creative offers. The Town Team will bring in pop-up traders, working with other London markets to attract home grown talent, support improvements to shop fronts, creating a member-owned cooperative to provide small loans for this purpose, and establish a food court in Exchange Square.


Despite Dartford’s high average earnings, the town’s proximity to London’s West End and the Bluewater shopping centre means that very few residents spend on their local high street. Dartford’s Portas Pilot will bring the community back into the town centre, opening up spaces for use by classes and clubs, from the Scouts to Slimming World. They will expand market trading days, offer bursaries to set up market stalls and give free pitches to startup companies. They will also offer training to local business owners, reopening an empty unit as a ‘social networking shop’ for local trades to share knowledge and offer their services and bringing in West End retail experts for a ‘school for shopkeepers’.


On the edge of Bristol, Bedminster intends to restructure its economy for the 21st Century, tackling the empty shops and anti-social behaviour in the eastern end of North Street and East Street. The Town Team aims to make Bedminster an internationally renowned home of Street Art and Street Theatre, with a permanent route of 25 pieces of locally made art around the area, a pop up street theatre and a permanent outside theatre space. A bicycle rickshaw service, a review of car parking and a review of shared space will tackle the traffic environment.


Liskeard’s hidden high street means that many of its residents are unaware of its charms and are,shopping and socialising elsewhere. The Liskeard Portas Pilot will inject fun back into the tired town centre, battling against the edge of town supermarket with a vibrant arts scene, seasonal and evening events and an evening market. Dedicated volunteers will use flash mob techniques from guerrilla gardening to yarn bombing to awaken the town with empty shops used as art space, and a website and work hub to connect everyone together.


An area of high deprivation and low income, Margate has been labelled as ‘Britain’s second worst ghost town’ with its 36.1 per cent vacancy rate. Margate’s Portas Pilot will turn the town’s fortunes, putting education and enjoyment at the heart of its transformation. Empty shops will be used for an enterprise centre and courses, ‘job club’ services and pop up shops. A new quality market will be opened with stalls offered to entrepreneurs, and website, free public WIFI, high street co-ordinator, marketing material and work to improve the look of the local area also help revitalise Margate.

Market Rasen

Market Rasen High street often sees people pass through the town on their way to local sporting events, from the races to rugby, but few stop in to visit the shops. The traditional market town’s Pilot will help the area draw customers in by bringing pride back to the local area and restoring the market town ‘look’. The Town Team plans to ‘blitz’ the unkempt areas of the town and work with landlords to tackle empty shops. They will advertise the local free parking and revitalise the market with stallholder demonstrations. Local shops will also be encouraged to open stalls and a ‘mentoring’ scheme will be put in place for new businesses to start on a market stall and work their way up to a high street store.


The historic cotton mill town Nelson is determined to re-establish its town centre as a vibrant hub for a diverse and multi-cultural community. Nelson’s Town Team will attract the town’s 2000 students to the town centre by creating a young persons café with free wi-fi and space to work and socialise. The town centre will hold sports activities such as morning bootcamps, and a new art and vintage market will also be established with college art work displayed in empty premises. Two empty shops will be dedicated to three month artist commissions and many other vacant sites will be granted to young entrepreneurs and artists, with professional business support and marketing.

Newbiggin by the Sea

Just 20 minutes from Newcastle, Newbiggin by the Sea is a small, isolated village “at the end of a road”, and with 36 per cent of its retail premises lying empty, the seaside town could benefit from a serious boost. The Newbiggin pilot will introduce new branding to help draw people into the town, including people from surrounding holiday parks. Plans to improve local transport will make it easier for those living on the outskirts of town to use their high street rather than heading to the city, vacant shops will be opened up to host pop up shops for new traders and exhibitions, and existing Newbiggin businesses will work together to support each other and draw customers back into the town.


Stockport’s proximity to Manchester and the Trafford centre means this large market town’s high street is among the worst affected in England. The Markets and Underbanks area in particular has 25-50 per cent vacancies, yet this recently restored area has huge character and potential. Stockport’s pilot will bring a new vibe to the area with venues owned and run by young people, and a creative arts complex ‘Seven Miles Out’. There will be a programme of evening events to animate Stockport’s unique places and spaces such as outdoor screenings in St Peter’s Square. Other elements include using the creative community to ‘dress’ vacant units, support for current and new occupancies, a new strategy for car parking charges, and street champions.

Stockton on Tees

Rather than directly compete with the retail competition of nearby towns and retail parks, Stockton’s Portas Pilot plans to become a thriving and vibrant market town destination that attracts both residents and visitors to shop, eat and drink, as well as providing a vibrant business and retail offer. The reopened Globe Theatre will be a local centre for live entertainment which, along with the ARC arts centre and Cultural Quarter, will be a catalyst for the evening leisure economy. Specialist High Street markets and evening markets will make Stockton a unique shopping destination and improvements in heritage areas, such as spotlights on significant buildings will support the evening economy.


Wolverhampton’s city centre has the fifth highest level of empty shops in the country, with strong competition from neighbouring towns and derelict areas attracting graffiti and antisocial behaviour. The WV One Pilot will bring the city will to life by introducing modern day town criers and on-street performers to promote local events and traders already established in the area will receive additional business support. They will also tackle the high level of empty shops head on with a ‘dragon’s den’ style competition to support local entrepreneurs. The winners will receive cash grants, a free place to trade and a showcase shop.

LGiU will shortly be publishing a member briefing on the Portas Pilots