The Queen of Shops was in Watford today to open the town’s new programme of cultural events.
Retail expert Mary Portas, who grew up in Rickmansworth, was "back in the old homeland" to launch Watford Big Events - a year-long series of entertainment events to bring the town’s new high street to life.
Speaking at the newly filled pond on The Parade, she praised the town centre’s redevelopment and the drive to bring back footfall to the top end of the high street.
Ms Portas, who completed a government review of high streets across the UK, said Watford was in with a "kicking chance" of reviving local businesses and bringing people back into the centre.
She said: "The truth of this is high streets and our towns are the heartbeats of our community.
"The fact that you’re here today means people want to meet, want to get together, want to commune."
She said Watford compared favourably to the nation’s other high streets.
She said: "I think Watford is still in there with a kicking chance.
"It feels really vibrant, now we just have to continue pushing it forward.
"It’s understanding that in the future high streets are not just about retailing.
"We could have crèches on the high street for places mothers and children to come and meet.
"In Watford we’ve got the theatres, history, heritage and the opportunity to make it really great."
Ms Portas credited Watford department store Clements with sparking her interest, and subsequent career, in retail.
Elected mayor Dorothy Thornhill said the regeneration has changed the space at the top end of The Parade and would increase footfall to businesses that side of town.
She addressed the crowds: "Doing nothing, and risking our high street falling into decline wasn’t an option for me. I wanted Watford to not just survive the recession, but thrive once again. So we invested £4.3 million into major improvements to the public realm and are completely redeveloping our ailing shopping centre. We have also begun the construction of a 21st century covered market and developed the biggest arts and cultural events programme in the county."