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Gloucestershire Business News

Living above the shop in Cheltenham

Under-used storage space is about to be converted into highly desirable residential accommodation on the upper floors of Cheltenham's Radley store on the Promenade.

This is thought to be the first such conversion on The Promenade and could trigger a series of similar moves, as retailers and landlords consider better ways to make good use of their buildings' upper levels.

The exterior of the Grade II listed building, built around 1820-1830, will remain unchanged, as retail space on the ground level and the upper floors will undergo a reconfiguration to create living space. All decorative features of the building will be retained.

Photo credit: Steve Bryson, Cheltenham Civic Society

The planning committee unanimously approved the application for the property conversion last week.

Cllr Steve Jordan, council leader, said: "There is a growing need to diversify what's on offer in our town centre - be this festivals and events, entertainment, eating out or living. Conversions such as this one are vital for ensuring that our town centre remains vibrant and attractive. Whilst Cheltenham has seen an increase in visitor numbers and continues to perform incredibly well, it's important that we respond to changing shopping and leisure habits and rethink how our town centre can be used.

"Encouraging change is not without its challenges of course. Many of our town centre buildings are owned by investment companies which are based overseas. Making contact and engaging with them about our town centre aspirations is not easy.''

Kevan Blackadder, director of Cheltenham BID, added: "We were delighted to hear that the planning committee have unanimously approved this application.

"With the changing retail environment, it is important for landlords to know that the borough council will look favourably on changes of use. This might be residential - as is now the case on the three floors above Radley - or for office use.

"Retail may well be maintained on the ground floor in most cases but, by opening up other parts of buildings as homes or for office workers, there will be increased footfall in the town centre. That will benefit both the daytime and night-time economies."

Cheltenham Civic Society supported the conversion application and is working closely with the council, BID and others to support Cheltenham as a vibrant and thriving town.

Andrew Booton, the society's chairman, said: "Cheltenham's Promenade is a barometer for the town's health and success. Its architectural value helps to make Cheltenham special, but it must continue to adapt if it is to thrive, as it has done down the centuries.

"Town centre living brings a host of benefits, including less reliance on the car, added vitality throughout both the day and evening, and an improved sense of security through the natural oversight that residents living above shops bring to public spaces. For these reasons, the Civic Society is keen to encourage development proposals like this.

"UK retail is changing. We must respond to the rapidly evolving shopping environment and be prepared to refocus and concentrate our in-town shopping areas and redefine our out-of-town retail sites. And, of course, we must continue to emphasise Cheltenham's uniqueness and maintain its high standards of design and presentation. After all, that is what established Cheltenham's success."

Retail is still a core activity of the town centre and Cheltenham is performing better than most places. Figures releases last month show that in 2019, visitor figures increased by seven per cent and tourism in the borough is now worth over £162 million pa. Also Cheltenham's vacant retail units stand at only eight per cent against a national average of 12 per cent, showing that the town continues to draw investment.

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