Published on 24th July 2023

image of Cheltenham high street

Report reveals: Cheltenham outperforming most areas on empty shop rates. Conversion of empty space to residential to maximise brownfield development. More work with landlords to achieve future vision.

A new expert report has revealed Cheltenham is outperforming the national average on town centre vacant shop units.

The work sponsored by the Council and Cheltenham BID will lead to a formal action plan for boosting the High Street.

That will include converting underused space on brownfield sites to homes, taking enforcement against unsightly empty premises and working with landlords and town centre businesses to boost the town centre economy.

Cllr Max Wilkinson, cabinet member for economic development, culture, tourism and wellbeing, 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.”

The innovative approach has been agreed following findings by retail expert Vacant Shops Academy. The co-commissioned report with Cheltenham BID highlights that the national vacancy rate for high street shops is currently an average of 13.8%, compared to Cheltenham’s vacancy rate of 10.1%. Cheltenham’s visitor economy remains resilient with 1.75 million visits and almost £122 million in visitor spend in 2021, despite the economic challenges facing retail businesses resulting from the pandemic, inflation and energy costs.

In preparation for a detailed plan to be presented to Cabinet in September 2023, the council, in partnership with Cheltenham BID and with input from the Cheltenham Economic Advisory Board, will explore the following recommendations:

  • Identifying vacant units and opportunities for more effective town centre land use
  • Undertaking audits of properties to monitor vacancy trends across the town centre
  • Highlighting opportunities for alternative uses, in particular residential, through current planning rules and in future local plans
  • Assessing the risk rating for currently occupied retail units to identify future vacancies based on local intelligence or national news (e.g. chains entering administration)
  • Identifying areas in the town centre which should be treated as unique zones in themselves and offered particular interventions, for example, the West End of the High Street which already has higher rates of residential and open space
  • Analysing data, trends, and assessing what businesses are missing from the town centre mix
  • Creating a town centre partnership working group including representatives of property owners

Heath Gunter Chief Executive of Cheltenham BID said: “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.’’

Supporting the high street and increasing town centre living are key drivers set out in the council’s Corporate Plan 2023-2027.

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