Plans for Mary Portas’ latest venture have suffered a major setback as four people from a town the so-called Queen of Shops was due to overhaul have resigned in disgust.
Margate in Kent is one of 12 ‘Portas Pilot’ towns picked by Local Government Minister Grant Shapps to receive help from the retail guru, fighting off competition from more than 350 entrants.
But four members of Margate’s ‘town team’ have resigned amid accusations that Ms Portas’ film crew was more interested in making controversial television than helping the town.
Queen of shops: Mary Portas’ scheme aims to revive the fortunes of flagging high streets. Twelve have so far been selected from across Britain
Each of the 12, which include Stockton-on-Tees, Bedford and Wolverhampton, is to receive cash from the Government and free advice from Ms Portas to revitalise their flagging high streets. Margate is due to receive £100,000.
Robin Vaughan-Lyons, chairman of the Margate town team and a local shop-owner, is the most recent member to quit. He said the filming of a Channel 4 documentary series had turned into a bitter power struggle.
Mr Vaughan-Lyons’ resignation followed that of the vice-chairman, tea shop owner Roxanne Tesslar; the treasurer, bistro owner Ian Darkler-Larkings; and the group’s secretary and press officer, Louise Oldfield.
Shorely not: nearly 40 per cent of shops in the seaside town of Margate stand empty and remaining shop-owners were desperate to see their fortunes improve
He accused the TV crew of deliberately trying to stoke up disagreements between the team’s leadership and businesses in the town, claiming Ms Portas had ‘completely blanked’ the town’s bosses while she attended filming.
Mr Vaughan-Lyons said the rows – which erupted as the film crew returned to Margate for a second spate of filming, following the town’s successful bid to be included in the Portas scheme – came even before the town team could draw up a plan on spending the £100,000.
‘I’m absolutely devastated but I was left with absolutely no option,’ he told The Grocer magazine.
Faded lights: Margate has struggled to regain the popularity it enjoyed in the Victorian era
He added: ‘There are a group of people who are more interested in publicity and being on TV than they are in helping Margate and they have been deliberately encouraged by the film crew to make personal attacks on us.
He told the magazine: ‘We have not objected to the filming of the show but for us it’s more about what we do to help the high street. But the filming has led to all sorts of disgraceful activity.’
Ms Oldfield said in her resignation statement: ‘My position has become untenable, with individuals consistently acting outside the team. I have been subjected to public bullying by individuals who are seeking to further their own personal interests rather than the aims of the bid.’
Not amused: members of Margate’s town team complained of people who were more interested in publicity than doing the job of sorting the town out
When Ms Portas arrived with the TV crew in June she caused outcry at a meeting with local traders when she appeared to suggest that the documentary was a pre-condition of getting the government grant.
She said: ‘We either let the cameras in with me, or I go back on the train and some other town gets it.’ She has since said she had made a mistake.
Mary Portas’ spokesman, Peter Cross, said the loss of the Town Team was ‘a terrible shame for the individuals’ but that it wouldn’t stop Margate benefiting from the initiative.
‘Margate deserves it,’ he said. ‘This Town Team has failed. It’s not for us to get into the politics. There are going to be many more obstacles to come. Mary would say it’s far better to try than to do nothing. Margate will succeed. It will succeed with a different Town Team.’