If you take a walk down the Promenade you’ll see more than a few empty shopping units.
In November last year, we took a walk through Cheltenham Town Centre and counted 52 empty or unused shopping units – many of these were littered along The Promenade, which has suffered heavy losses in the past few years.
At the time however, Cheltenham BID said that “it was encouraging that a number of new shops had opened in the town”.
Speaking in November, Belinda Hunt, operations manager at Cheltenham BID said: “What has been encouraging since the first lock-down was lifted is the number of new businesses that have opened in Cheltenham, with a mix of food and beverage and retail offerings.
“We are also aware of some newcomers to The Promenade who, had we not gone into this second lock-down, would have been open and we are looking forward to them trading before Christmas.
“The BID is working with Cheltenham Borough Council and other stakeholders to engage with landlords and agents to promote Cheltenham as a great place to do business and we have been pleased with the response from these groups to work together.
“As a BID, we are supporting local businesses and helping them to adapt to the changing consumer behaviour to help them flourish and reduce the potential number of vacant units going forward.”
Since then a third lockdown has been introduced utting retailers under even more pressure.
What can be done
Is the future bleak for this famous stretch of shops, or is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Coronavirus restrictions haven’t helped with people being generally unable to get out to the shops and much shopping traffic being diverted online, but town bosses think all is not lost.
A spokeswoman for Cheltenham Borough Council said: “It’s widely acknowledged that Covid-19 has accelerated what was already a challenging and changing trading environment for the retail sector and for high streets up and down the country.
“Cheltenham – and the Promenade in particular – has not been immune to this change, and like so many town and cities has seen vacancy rates steadily rise as an increasing number of well-known retail brands have collapsed nationally.
“However, it is worth noting that Cheltenham has currently not been impacted as hard as some other towns and cities.”
Tracey Crews, director for planning said: “The new Cheltenham Economic Recovery Task Force has identified the revitalisation of the high street as one of its key priorities and is actively exploring a range of new ideas and imaginative solutions that can breathe new life into our town centre.
“A sub-group has been formed to help shape and accelerate plans for a new town centre vision for Cheltenham, while an innovative new project is also in development that seeks to bring vacant retail units back into use.
“This Counter Culture project, which is a collaboration between property owners and landlords, local cultural producers, digital innovators and businesses is currently in the process of identifying units for an initial pilot.”
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Who are the Cheltenham Economic Recovery Task Force?
Hosted by Cheltenham Borough Council, the new Task Force, which met for the first time on September 9, 2020, brings together senior leaders from across the public, private, charity and voluntary sectors to help drive forward the town’s economic recovery.
The Task Force will be fleet of foot and alongside responding to funding opportunities across the economic recovery agenda will act as a key vehicle for lobbying partners, stakeholders and government to drive flexibilities in the delivery of economic recovery interventions across local, county and national level issues.
You can read more on the task force here.
Ms Crews added: “Amidst the challenges there is also recovery and progress on delivery of the Minster Innovation Exchange is one of these being delivered in partnership with GFirst LEP.
“This innovative development will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the recovery of the High Street in due course.
“As the local authority, we are also working closely with Cheltenham BID and many of the local landlords and agents to overcome some of the many, often complex barriers to bringing vacant units back into active use.”