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.
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.
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.
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.
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.