We have empty shops in town and we will probably have more. Other than convenience stores, supermarkets and a limited outdoor market, no one is trading through their high street stores at the moment. Reopening is probably more than a month away.
Our town centre has been weakened by the pandemic. It is far from dead. Behind the shuttered and darkened shopfronts are businesses working hard online. Or resting. It’s hard to cut hair or trim nails on the internet.
We must stride into the future. Not just post-pandemic. Over the coming decades. We must not turn our back on our high street and the traders that give it colour and life. If we give up on our town centre, we will ensure its obsolescence.
There are currently around seven or eight retail premises in Ludlow town centre that are empty or up for let. One of the most recent advertisement to let is Joules on the Bullring. It has always been a trophy shop, attracting the attention of passers-by and festival goers who might drop in and buy a bargain but were just as likely to buy the products online later.
High streets have always been changing but Ludlow has weathered the changes better than most because of the strength of our independent shops and market traders. They are suffering but most are getting ready to bounce back. I’ll convene a meeting of the Ludlow Town Centre Recovery Group as soon as we see a glimpse of the roadmap out of lockdown. The Ludlow Destination Partnership is also due to meet shortly.
There is a lot of promotional material ready and waiting to go out in print and social media. Videos, banners, bloggers and more. Thanks to our talented community, this is ready to go but has been delayed a few times due to the pandemic.
New retail space is due to be built. Most prominently a Sainsbury’s with Argos is being constructed at Rocks Green. That will draw people from the town centre. People who might have gone to Tesco or Aldi and walked into town. Tesco has permission to restrict parking to two hours and that will promote the trend towards shopping out of town.
Two retail units are due to built as part of the Galdeford development on the former Budgens site (19/05380/FUL). The Green Party has objected to the new retail units using the simplistic argument that because there are empty shops, no more should be built. This is misguided. There is a need for a range of retail formats, including larger modern units that can be merged and rearranged at short notice. Ludlow town centre needs some larger format stores to attract retailers in the changing retail environment. It is greener for people to shop in our town rather than drive 30 miles for basic goods like clothing.
The building has flexibility built into much of its design. If the units at the former Budgens can’t ultimately be let, they can be converted to apartments without planning permission.
The Galdeford Gate area needs building up as a retail destination rather than being the bit of town between the car parks and the town centre proper.
People want to shop on high streets. Especially in historic towns like ours. Ludlow can be the new future of shopping for pleasure. An alternative to standing in queues at mega shopping centres instead or have everything delivered in those now ubiquitous cardboard boxes.