CONVERTING vacant shops into residential buildings will be an “important” part of reinvigorating town centres during the pandemic recovery, Torfaen council has said.
Across the borough, and in Pontypool especially, there are now a number of empty shops in town centres, where some businesses have been forced to close due to the impact of the pandemic.
Across the UK, in the first three months of this year, it was revealed that the vacancy rate across shops in the UK increased to 14.1 per cent – according to the British Retail Consortium and Local Data Company’s shop vacancy monitor.
This figure had risen from 13.7 per cent in the last three months of 2020.
And the same percentage – 14.1 per cent – of high street shops across the UK were also vacant up to March 31 this year.
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Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “After a third national lockdown, it is no surprise that the vacancy rate has continued to soar.
“The forced closure of thousands of shops during the first quarter of 2021 has exacerbated already difficult conditions for the retail industry.
“We estimate there are around 5,000 fewer stores since the start of the pandemic, meaning one in seven shops now lie empty.”
Looking ahead to the recovery from the pandemic, Torfaen council has said it will look to encourage “a diverse mix of uses” in its town centres.
“Covid is changing how our town centre spaces are used,” said a council spokesperson. “Whilst we have seen some businesses sadly close during the pandemic, we have also seen several independent businesses open and thrive in town centres across Torfaen.
“As retail continues to evolve, we need to support our towns to embrace a more diverse mix of uses.
“Converting some properties into residential is an important part of this mix. It helps introduce more footfall into towns, creating more vibrancy.
“Conversion is more challenging for some properties than others, particularly where they may be listed, but with good design it is still possible to create a high quality conversion that maintains the historic character of the area.”
A change of use policy had been in place in Blaenavon, set out in Blaenavon Heritage Partnership’s ‘Heritage and Regeneration Study’ – published in September 1998 ahead of the bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This report set out the “principal components” of the partnership’s “recommended approach to improving the town centre” – which included “general enhancement of streetscape quality in Lower Broad Street through paving, facade improvements and encouraging change of use from commercial to residential.”
Currently, one of these former retail outlets is up for sale on Broad Street, while another shop – the former bookshop at 32-32a Broad Street – is on the market as a commercial property with a residential flat above it – which puts another option on the table for revitalising empty town centre shops.