Cheltenham is outperforming the national average for town centre occupancy

A new report co-commissioned by Cheltenham Borough Council and Cheltenham BID shows that the town is outperforming the national average for town centre occupancy, with the findings being used to create a formal action plan to help boost the High Street.

By Chloe Gorman  |  Published
Cheltenham's town centre has a lower rate of vacant shops than 'most areas' in the UK, according to research commissioned by Cheltenham Borough Council and Cheltenham BID.

Cheltenham is outperforming the national average for town centre occupancy, according to a new report co-commissioned by Cheltenham Borough Council and Cheltenham BID.

The findings from retail expert Vacant Shops Academy show that Cheltenham is outperforming 'most areas' but more work needs to be done with local landlords to further boost the town centre economy.

The report audited the number of vacant units on the Promenade, High Street, The Strand and Cambray Place and conducted a 'visual review' of the West End of the High Street and Montpellier. It then connected with agents for the identified vacant properties to establish whether they were empty and available; a development or refurbishment site; under offer; in 'meanwhile use'; or let. 

The national vacancy rate for High Street shops is 13.8 per cent, while the research found Cheltenham's is significantly lower at 10.1 per cent. The town also has a resilient visitor economy, benefitting from 1.75 million visits and around £122 million spent by visitors in 2021, despite the challenging economic environment which followed the Covid-19 pandemic and record inflation.

During the research, agents were also asked what they felt the barriers to letting in Cheltenham were, both for individual units and town centre-wide, with business rates; the disrepair of retail buildings; competition from online retailers who pay little tax in the UK; slow planning applications; and having to pay for town centre parking all being identified.

For The Strand in particular, the state of the public realm was also a key factor, with agents describing it as being 'in desperate need of attention.'

Increasing town centre living and supporting the High Street are two key drivers set out by the council in its Corporate Plan 2023-2027 — and the new research will help with the creation of a formal action plan to boost Cheltenham High Street and take action against unsightly empty premises. 

A detailed plan is due to be presented to the cabinet in September 2023, putting forward recommendations such as auditing properties to monitor vacancy trends across the town centre; highlighting opportunities for alternative uses, with a particular focus on converting underused space on brownfield sites to homes; identifying areas in the town centre to treat as unique zones with their own particular interventions; and creating a town centre partnership working group, which includes representatives of property owners. 

Cabinet member for economic development, culture, tourism and wellbeing, Councillor Max Wilkinson, said: 'We all want our town centre to thrive. This report tells us that Cheltenham is doing well compared to a lot of other areas and that’s reflected in the number of new shops opening.

'But we know there’s always room for improvement and we mustn’t be complacent. A town centre where more people live will be more sustainable and boost trade too, while providing much-needed homes for local people. That’s a triple win. And working with landlords will also help us fill empty premises with new shops and leisure businesses too.

'We’ll be working on putting planning rules to best use by working with landlords on streets with shops which currently stand empty and also making clear we welcome conversion to residential in appropriate areas of the town centre. We know people across the age ranges are interested in town centre living.'

Heath Gunter, chief executive of Cheltenham BID, added: 'Our high street is outperforming the national average, which is certainly encouraging. The BID remains committed to investing in and collaborating with local businesses and organisations, aiming to enhance Cheltenham's High Street further and create an even more appealing town centre for businesses, residents, and visitors.'

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