Ludlow 'needs taskforce to help make it thrive again' - councillor
A Shropshire councillor has called for a taskforce to promote improvements in Ludlow town centre while the seeds of recovery are growing.
Councillor Andy Boddington says that the empty shops in Ludlow - 23 retail units - are more obvious than they have ever been, particularly on King Street.
But he says there are clear signs of a revival.
"Ludlow is still a lively town and well worth visiting to shop and explore its heritage, cafes restaurants, pubs market and really good shops," he said.
"But it cannot be hidden that there are more empty shops than there used to be. The recent closure of the Fruit Basket on Church Street was another blow to the town centre.
"But it is not all gloom and doom. Shops are being refurbished and new tenants moving in. We need a taskforce to promote short-term improvements while the town centre recovers."
The Ludlow councillor said that there were 215 retail units in the town centre in 2017, of which seven were vacant, a vacancy rate of just 3.3 per cent.
"This was a high point and vacancy rate was much lower than the national and regional average of around 9.5per cent. There are now 211 retail units, a few having been converted to dwellings. Twenty-three units are currently vacant, a vacancy rate of 10.8 per cent, compared to a national rate of 13.8 per cent."
He said the increase in vacant shops in Ludlow began with the hike in business rates in April 2018 which hit medium-sized retail businesses.
"Britain was still reeling from austerity introduced after the banking crisis and shop closure increased in Ludlow and nationally," said Councillor Boddington.
"Shropshire Council hiked parking charges. The park and ride service began to struggle, some days with insufficient buses, others with overloading. Then the pandemic came along. Some businesses closed immediately; others struggled on for a while after the pandemic. Some businesses closed due to retirement. Others relocated.
"By 2020, 20 shops were empty in the town centre."
He added: "Some retail units have merged since 2017, others have changed use. For example, the Working Together Café at 3 Fish Street became the Wicked Grin micropub from 2019 to 2021 and has since been incorporated into Carvell’s The Art of Tea. Other properties have been split. For example, Ginger Antiques and the former Coral Bookmakers have both been spilt into two retail units.
"New businesses have come to town and others have moved within the town centre. After Country Linens on Castle Street closed, Hope House moved to fill the vacancy. After a while, Juniper and Vine moved into the empty King Street unit."
Councillor Boddington said that, while King Street looks sad and down at heel, that is beginning to change.
"After Carters butchers closed, a tattoo parlour has opened. The former Grape Tree wholefoods next to the Buttercross is being refurbished for Balfours estate agents, which will move from Broad Street. A contractor is currently being sought to bring the former Costa Coffee to full repair. The owner is currently negotiating with a potential tenant.
"On the Market Square, the former M&Co will reopen as Savers shortly. On the Bull Ring, work is underway to refurbish the former La Luminaire, though the work is proving more complex than initially envisaged."
Councillor Boddington said the town needed to by brightened up, ideally with a recovery fund, although he could not see where the money would come from.
"We need a taskforce to come up with ideas of how to brighten up empty shops. Posters by local artists and children in empty shop windows is one idea. Ideally the chamber of commerce would lead a task force, working with the town council and councillors," he said.
"Plans being drawn up under the Ludlow Movement Strategy will aim to improve town centre streets and reduce, not stop, traffic in the town centre. Perhaps to increase parking spaces in the Galdeford car park. Maybe a bus hub in the car park. A more frequent park and ride service in peak season. and electric buses.
"We need to promote Ludlow as a unique retail and visitor location. Sitting back and just hoping it gets better is not an option. Towns that thrive in difficult times work hard to make that happen."