Shops queen is welcome back

Retail guru Mary Portas.'AO DG25
Retail guru Mary Portas.'AO DG25

SHE is the retail guru who famously announced on national TV two years ago that Dunstable was a shopping spot “on its last legs” and said there was “not much” chance of retailers being successful in the town.

But self-styled Queen Of Shops Mary Portas has now been invited by the Government to bring back the bustle to town centres across the country by creating a more diverse High Street.

And Dunstable town clerk David Ashlee has said he would welcome her back so he could show her all that is being done to inject life into the town.

He told the Gazette: “Dunstable is beginning to turn around.

“We could show her the new shops in the town and we could show her all the events we have planned.

“I think I could paint a completely different picture to the picture that she painted on national television when she visited last time. It’s easy to talk a place down but it’s harder to talk a place up.

“She just came in and made negative remarks and went away again. It would be good if she came back here but I wouldn’t want it to be a gimmick.”

Mary Portas will lead a review of the future of the High Street.

And Tim Smart, of adult clothing business Secrets in Albion Street, thinks she is a good choice for the role.

Tim, who was filmed for the BBC documentary on Dunstable in 2009, said: “She’s as good as anyone, but I don’t think there is much you can do with the High Street at the moment with the recession, the internet and the superstores.”

But campaign group Don’t Let Dunstable Die has said it is “disappointed” by the Government’s decision to appoint the retail guru after her biting remarks about Dunstable.

On the group’s social networking site, one Facebook fan wrote: “To be honest, I couldn’t care less about Mary Portas. If I can I shop local, however if I can find items cheaper on internet or in large store then I will buy it there. I have to do what’s best for my financial situation each month.”

Mr Smart said that the recent increase in car parking charges won’t help the town. He also admitted that his mother-in-law chooses to do her weekly shop in Leighton Buzzard rather than Dunstable, despite living in Capron Road, as there is a more direct bus to the supermarket.

He said: “A bus service from French’s Avenue into the town centre might help, but the increase in car parking certainly isn’t going to help. A few new shops have opened but three open and three close. I don’t think you will ever reach full occupancy.”

But Mr Ashlee has a much more optimistic view, saying that in 10 years time, Dunstable could “become a destination of first choice”.

He said: “There’s some major infrastructure improvements that need to take place. There’s no doubt that the A5/M1 link needs to take place soon. And the masterplan is very useful. It gives developers what is and what would be permissable. But ultimately, the town needs tens of millions of pounds of private and public sector investment. But I am fairly confident that will happen once the major infrastructure improvements are in place.

“I think Dunstable town centre in itself can become a destination of first choice but it needs that private sector investment to make it more effective and create that critical mass of footfall that is required to get the bigger names into town. If a major developer can come in and purchase the Quadrant, that kind of investment can begin to happen.”