THE increasing number of empty shops and lack of office space in Tunbridge Wells has been highlighted with new data.
Business network organisation Royal Tunbridge Wells Together concluded in their latest quarterly Town Centre Intelligence Report that trading conditions are ‘challenging’.
Figures show 78 of the town’s 622 units to be empty. At 12.5 per cent of the total number,
the proportion of vacant units is far higher than the UK average of 9.6 per cent.
The rise in the number of empty shops has partly been put down to enforced closures due to the forthcoming redevelopment of the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre, but there are significant vacancies elsewhere – including six in Calverley Road and eight in Grosvenor Road.
Karen Pengelly, Town Centre Manager for the organisation Royal Tunbridge Wells Together [RTWT], said high streets are all having to face up to the challenge of online shopping.
“Where people once researched their purchases in store, they now do so online, with 56 per cent of electronic and computer equipment now ordered from a website,” she said. “And Tunbridge Wells is not immune to this change.
“Trading conditions are challenging, but our hospitality and leisure sectors are thriving and our independent sector is strong.
“Although the vacancy rate is not comfortable reading, the town’s retail market is notoriously resilient, and using figures from this quarter to make a long-term prediction would not be wise.”
RTWT is working with partner agencies and businesses to address and overcome challenges that arise.
“We will be studying successful initiatives that have driven footfall in other towns and cities and developing events and initiatives that suit Tunbridge Wells,” she continued.
One positive find in the report was the high proportion of independent shops, especially within Camden Road, The Pantiles and Vale Road, where they outnumber chain stores.
Rupert Farrant, of local chartered surveyors and commercial property agents Durlings, said: “Summer months are usually quieter for retail lettings. We expect to see an upturn in the autumn.
“We consider retail in Tunbridge Wells to be resilient, and it is a much sought after destination.”
Ms Pengelly added: “We have stores that cannot be found on every high street or in large shopping malls. Independent retailers have always been a unique selling point.”
The trend has been continuing with Camden Butchers and kitchen shop Leicht recently opening in Camden Road and the High Street, respectively.
However, the allowing of Permitted Development Rights has caused other concerns for the business growth of the town as property continues to be turned into residential use at the expense of office space.
The issue was reported in the Times recently after stockbroker AJ Bell admitted it may consider leaving Tunbridge Wells due to a lack of suitable office space now their Calverley House building is due to be converted for housing.
Ms Pengelly said: “Permitted Development Rights allow developers to change the use of
commercial premises to residential without planning permission. “It has a serious impact on the availability of office space in the south east.”
HOW TO JOIN ROYAL TUNBRIDGE WELLS TOGETHER
Royal Tunbridge Wells Together connects local businesses in a partnership aimed at
strengthening trade in the town.
Members have benefi ts including the ability to connect with businesses through a database; online promotion; training from Tourism South East; and an opportunity to be
profi led in the Times.
Joining as an associate member for a business costs £250, with registered charities
receiving a 50 per cent discount. The group has 45 members and is looking to develop.
To join, follow the online instructions at www.tunbridgewellstogether.co.uk