HIGH street traders battling the economic gloom have welcomed TV retail guru Mary Portas’s calls to restore vitality to town centres.

The star of BBC Two’s Mary Queen of Shops, has told the Government it must reduce red tape for retailers.

She also wants to see cheaper parking, more old-fashioned markets and landlords not to leave shops standing empty.

Traders in south Essex have welcomed the TV presenter’s report, Understanding High Street Performances.

Neil Raven, owner of Ravens department store in Clifftown Road, Southend, said: “Mary Portas has said she wants to revitalise high streets, which is what we want to hear.

“Obviously, it may take a while to get everything right, as different towns have different needs, but bringing more people into town centres can only be a good thing.”

Most town centre traders believe scrapping car parking charges would help put them on an even footing with their out-of-town rivals.

Mr Raven said: “It can affect business if potential customers are put off by being charged to park, especially when shoppers know parking at big shopping centres such as Lakeside is free.

“I don’t think most people mind having to pay something towards car parking, but if they think the fees being asked are unreasonable, they will go elsewhere.”

Trevor Draper owns two Billericay High Street shops, the Billericay Cookshop and the Emporium, and is also a former chairman of the town’s Chamber of Commerce.

He agrees parking is a crucial issue, and thinks councils should be doing move to address it. He explained: “The problem is when we have looked before at trying to get something sorted, the borough and county councils simply pass it between each other, so nothing gets done.”

Mary Portas suggests markets in town centres attract shoppers, who also then use nearby shops, but Mr Draper is not so certain.

He explained: “We have just held the annual Christmas Market in Billericay.

“It brought in more than 20,000 visitors to the High Street and I feel though this type of influx – in one big blast – can be better for high streets than more regular markets.

“Regular markets add to councils’ costs for street cleaning, for instance. They would need to be planned out very carefully.”

Some councils have criticised Mary Portas’s report, because she did not consult them, but Basildon Council’s Tory leader Tony Ball said it offered sensible suggestions.

His council already offers some free parking at weekends and over Christmas. Mr Ball added: “We agree high streets and town centres are the heart communities.

“This is why my council is embarking on major regeneration programmes for its towns, something we have been working on since 2003.

“Through the ambitious redevelopment of Basildon town centre, we will build on what is good, and drastically improve the things that need changing.”