Agenda item

The retail environment in Cheltenham

Jeremy Williamson, Managing Director – Cheltenham Development Task Force (with support from David Oakhill, Head of Planning – CBC and Kevan Blackadder, Director – Cheltenham BID)


Jeremy Williamson, Managing Director of the Cheltenham Development Task Force with support from David Oakhill, Head of Planning at CBC and Kevan Blackadder, Director of Cheltenham BID had produced a paper, as circulated with the agenda, which provided an overview of the current retail environment in Cheltenham.  In addition to this, they had produced a PowerPoint presentation which is attached at Appendix 1.


The Managing Director of the Cheltenham Development Task Force explained that the national retail environment had been challenging since the latest recession and that this coupled with wages rising slower than inflation, a shift to online shopping, rising costs for retailers and too much corporate and personal debt; has completely changed the face of town centre retail. 


The Portas Review of 2011 said “The new high streets won’t just be about selling goods. The mix will include shops but could also include housing, offices, sport, schools or other social, commercial and cultural enterprises and meeting places.”  Cheltenham town centre had, had its share of losses, but these losses were not confined to the high street and retail was just one component of wider experience, which required a range of things including leisure, food & beverage, town centre living, employment, public realm, connectivity and events.  It was also noted that whilst losses had occurred, there had also been a positive take-up of vacant units, with newcomers to the town including Oliver Bonas, India Jane and Urban Outfitters. 


Cheltenham was fortunate to have a defined leisure quarter at the Brewery; which in many instances had been developed on the edge of town driving footfall away from rather than into the town centre. 


Whilst there had been some high profile collapses (Jamie’s Italian), Cheltenham had a strong and diverse (national names as well as local independents) food and beverage offer and this helped to strengthen the wider night-time economy.


A key step to maintaining vibrancy was to ensure that there were opportunities for people to live in the heart of the town, as without this, the town centre would be disserted after 5pm at night, and CBC has been supporting such initiatives through its planning function, with further properties coming on stream on the Lower High Street.  A number of retirement homes operators were now based in the town centre and these tended to attract individuals with high disposable income, but it was unknown to what extent this was spent in the town centre. 


Town centre had seen a decline in employment but Cheltenham had been successfully reversing the trend of employment to residential losses across the town and Honeybourne Place represented the first new employment space to have been developed in Cheltenham in two decades.  Formal Storage, a quirky space with no parking, commanded some of the highest rents. 


Whilst there had been some successes in improving the public realm offer, there remained a considerable amount to do, especially in The Strand. 


The Cheltenham Transport Plan had resulted in modal shift and increased footfall and the challenge going forward would be how to maintain and build upon this going forward. 


The night-time economy in Cheltenham was very strong. 


Reality was that town centres could no longer be synonymous with retail and there was a need for a creative and open-minded approach to the challenges being faced. 


The following responses were given to member questions:


·      There were several databases, but these contained occupancy data rather than details of freeholders or leaseholders and the authority did not subscribe to any of these as they were very costly.  A helpful commercial agent had provided details for some properties, primarily on the Promenade and contact had been made and though there had been very few responses to date, some were engaging. 

·      At present there was an 8% vacancy rate in the town centre, though Officers were not able to advise what number this equated to.   

·      Business rates were too high, but it was undoubtedly the case that some rents were also too high and though some landlords were adopting a more sensible approach, some believed that Cheltenham could still afford higher rates.

·      There was no suggestion that the town centre was closed to retail, but rather that the new reality was that mixed use was necessary.

·      There was a shortage of Chefs in Cheltenham and there would be further repercussions if proposed changes to immigration rules were implemented. 

·      Churchill had been keen to promote the availability of spaces for events. 

·      The benefit of pop-up enterprises were being promoted to agents and urged to be open to the idea, though undoubtedly some freeholders/leaseholders were reluctant to incur the time and cost associated with drawing up contracts for what could be a very short-term pop-up. 


The Chairman thanked Officers for their attendance.

Supporting documents: