Shropshire bucks declining trend in high street stores as communities embrace shopping

Shropshire is bucking the regional trend of high street shops being shuttered, thanks to a huge effort by organisations and retailers across the county.

Bustling Bridgnorth town centre
Bustling Bridgnorth town centre

A study suggests that almost a fifth of high street shops across the West Midlands are sitting vacant with the decline due to online shopping and Covid-19.

In Wolverhampton a third of shops are empty.

But towns across Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin are reporting much better vacancy figures with new and established businesses moving onto the high street.

In Wellington the number of empty shops has dropped from 15 per cent in 2018 to nine per cent this year.

Figures for Shrewsbury show a 13 per cent vacancy rate, lower than the national average.

And in Oswestry a number of new shops have opened.

The Power to Change group has said that Britain's high streets are at breaking point. It wants a new fund to be set up to help the community to buy the empty sites.

Its study shows that 20 per cent of properties on the high streets of the West Midlands are empty, higher that the national average of 16 per cent.

An assessment carried out by Shrewsbury BID found that 87 per cent of town centre units are currently occupied – higher than the national average.

Seb Slater, executive director of Shrewsbury BID, said: “More than 20 new businesses have opened in Shrewsbury over the past year, with more on the horizon.

“What we are seeing is that businesses which provide something different - an experience, exceptional personal service that you simply can’t get online - can thrive on the high street, and demand for units in Shrewsbury town centre has remained strong.”

Sally Themans, the driving force behind the Love Bridgnorth, Love Wellington and Love Madeley groups, said there were nowhere near 20 per cent of shops empty in Bridgnorth while the latest Wellington figures showed just eight per cent of shops empty.

"In Madeley we have just had Boulton's Butchers open following a £150,000 investment."

"It's all about changing attitudes, civic pride and people working together," Sally said.

"Once people feel better about where they live and celebrate what they love about it they will want to support it."

She said Wellington Town Council and Telford & Wrekin Council had a regeneration partnership with Pride in our High Street £10,000 grants to help fill vacant properties.

Oswestry's town centre’s footfall received a high boost in the run-up to Christmas, increasing by over 30 per cent in December compared with the previous month.

Adele Nightingale, Oswestry Business Improvement Manager, said: "It was really heartening to see such an increase on the high street in what had been another challenging year for businesses in handling changing Covid guidance. It’s an indication of the strength and resilience of Oswestry town centre, the quality of our businesses and the importance of events too.

"It’s also a great tribute to the amazing support shown by residents in shopping local – it is clearly making a huge difference."

Oswestry has a host of special events planned for the year to encourage people to go into the town and even a free rickshaw service funded by the town council.

Power to Change has argued a £350 million High Street Buyout Fund should be set up to allow groups to purchase buildings on the high street.

It will help communities secure empty buildings and allow them compete with private investors who may not consider the best interests of the area, the report says.

Nick Plumb, Power to Change's high streets lead, said: "The evidence is clear, community ownership on the high street is essential to their survival and a High Street Buyout Fund will break down the barriers that shop local people getting a foothold on the high street property ladder.

"The nation’s high streets are at a perilous tipping point and if these much-loved community spaces are to survive, we need radical action now."

YouGov polling for the group, which supports the growth of community businesses in England, revealed people are worried about the decline of the high street – and how it will impact on the economy, with two-thirds worried in the region.

Three quarters of people have seen an increase in the number of vacant shops and buildings on their high street, whilst a similar figure believe local people should have access to the vacant buildings.

Mark Robinson, property director and co-founder of Ellandi and chairman of the High Streets Taskforce, said: "Vacant properties owned by absentee landlords are the scourge of community, holding back the transformation of our high streets. These proposals will give community groups the power and means to take back control to make change happen."

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