The recent redevelopment of the toilet on New Road has turned an eyesore into a useful building. When planning permission was given, its use was restricted to a shop or sandwich bar. Now the owners also want permission for it to be used as a café or restaurant. There is likely to be a mixed reaction to this. Some will welcome a new outlet. Others will be concerned about parking and damage to existing businesses.
It’s a New Year. More than any point in the calendar it is a time for reflection and predictions of what lies ahead. Retail matters hugely in Ludlow, not just for our daily shop but to bring in the visitors that give our town centre its buzz.
Around the country, town centres are losing their buzz as trade is dragged out of town by vast retail parks or hoovered up by the growing retail power of the internet. Ministers and councils have spent decades overseeing the decline of town centres. They are now panicking and desperate to find ways of resuscitating failing high streets. But they are no longer interested in retail. They want shops replaced by homes.
Is this the future for Ludlow town centre? I don’t think so. We are happy being Ludlow and should remain that way.
Shropshire Council has been flirting with plans to licence every A-Board in the county. Those ideas didn’t get through the Place Overview Committee yesterday. Everyone agreed that a licencing and charging scheme was the wrong approach. Instead, the committee asked officers to work with local councillors and communities to draw up clearer guidance on where A-Boards can be placed to ensure safety of pavement users, including those with limited mobility and visual impairment.
We agreed it would more effective for responsibility for “policing” of A-Boards should be devolved from Shropshire Council to town councils.
This is good news. Shropshire Council should not overregulate and we should manage the day-to-day business of the town ourselves.
A-Boards can be a hazard to the blind and partially sighted. They can be a problem for families with child buggies. But they are also essential for local businesses, many of which are on side alleys or not immediately in sight.
For the best part of a decade, we have endured a debate between “Love A-Boards” and “Hate A-Boards” in Ludlow. That debate could be moving towards an end after a Shropshire Council meeting next Friday.
I walked around the town centre yesterday and counted 98 A-Boards – 74 were on the public highway and 24 on private land. The debate is now on whether this is right for our town. The urgency of the debate is driven by Shropshire Council’s wish to regulate all A-Boards in the county and to charge retailers for the privilege of putting the signs on the highway. What the council is proposing comes across as overregulation.
Chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday afternoon announced a significant but temporary reduction in business rates for smaller retail businesses.
This is good news for market towns like Ludlow. For the next two years, the Chancellor’s statement will reduce crippling business rate bills by around £500,000 over the next two years in Ludlow. We are a town with more than 70 independent retailers. That money will help local businesses survive. It will be pumped back into Ludlow’s economy.
The news of a tax on digital retailers is also good news. Our high streets are not in competition with the internet giants but they should not be left at a disadvantage because of the business rate burden they face.