Empty shops: Ludlow has a lot, it has a lot to offer – we need to help it back to full health

Ludlow is still a lively town and well worth visiting to shop and explore its heritage, cafes restaurants, pubs market and really good shops. But it cannot be hidden that there are more empty shops than there used to be. At present there are 23 vacant retail units in the town centre. In November 2017, there were just seven vacant units the lowest number for years.

The empty shops are more obvious in Ludlow than they have ever been, particularly on  King Street. 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. And there are clear signs of a revival, including on King Street. Shops are being refurbished and new tenants moving in. We need a task force to promote short term improvements while the town centre recovers.

1 King Street wiil be Balfours

There were 215 retail units in the town centre in 2017, of which seven were vacant, a vacancy rate of just 3.3%. This was a high point and vacancy rate was much lower than the national and regional average of around 9.5%. 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%, compared to a national rate of 13.8%.

The increase in vacant shops in Ludlow began with the hike in business rates in April 2018 which hit medium sized retail businesses (small shops with a rateable value of less than £15,000 don’t pay business rates). Britain was still reeling from austerity introduced after the banking crisis and shop closure increased in Ludlow and nationally. Shropshire Council hiked parking charges. The park and ride service began to struggle, some days with insufficent 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.

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.

Former Costa Coffee is to be refurbished and let

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.

Savers is coming

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.

There is still no news on the former Budgens site. This is proving hard to let or sell after the plans were scuppered by delays in giving planning permission and soaring construction costs.

In summary, its mixed news about the town. There are more empty shops than before but new businesses are moving in. The are the roots of a revival.

We need to brighten up the town. Ideally, we should have a recovery fund but I don’t see where the money will come from. We need a task force. 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.

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. Electric buses. There will be more information on this in the coming weeks.

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.

Note

Town centre as used in this article and Ludlow retail analyses has a very specific definition. This has become dated and does not reflect the current retail pattern.

The formal definition of the town centre

7 comments on Empty shops: Ludlow has a lot, it has a lot to offer – we need to help it back to full health

  1. Which makes me wonder why a Marks and Spencer food store has been approved when nearby Sainsbury is under-performing. I understand that Shropshire Council wishes to promote competition, but surely a point has been reached where retail food provision becomes saturated and counter-productive. Everyone then loses.

    1. Yes I wonder too. Do you think Shropshire Council will give us an understandable reply? Ludlow has only gone one way since amalgamation.

  2. Increasing car parking charges does not help – how can our County Council be so short sighted?

  3. I don’t think we will have a unique retailing location with yet another estate agent and more charity shops. If you want to impress visitors that is not the way to do it. They notice immediately. I know, I have overheard conversations. Doesn’t give a good impression to people who may be thinking of moving here.

    1. I am not aware of any plans for a new charity shop.The estate agent will be relocatins from Broad Street.

  4. Does Andy Boddington think graffiti is the all embracing cure for Ludlow Town centre ??

    We are living for the last 6 years with the old Co-Op building defaced……by his cohorts.

    1. I hesitated before approving this as it breaches comment guidelines which are play the ball, not the person. But I want to take the opportunity to reply.

      The Ludlow Mural was a unique community project agreed in a handshake and almost entirely privately funded. The remit from the then developer was to make it a community artwork. We achieved that by not allowing anyone artist to dominate. The developer provided the scaffolding and most of the material.

      We needed a section for young people. Part of the brief. The youth zone has proved popular if somewhat chaotic in design and execution. Tracey Huffer negotiated that, as having young people on site without parents requires two experienced youth workers.

      There has not been any graffiti on the mural. Quite an achievement in this town. The reception has been very good.

      After four years the mural is past its use by date. We had an agreement for it to be in place for one year. But this site has proved difficult to develop and schemes have fallen through.

      This was quite an achievement by people from across Ludlow. Even though it got stressful at times (artists you know) we did it over the food festival. We had BBC Radio Shropshire on site live broadcasting. That was great for Ludlow. We haven’t had a project like it before or since.

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