Mixed views as some shops are turned into homes

Some shop shutters in the Orchard Meadows area have been painted to make them look more interesting

Some shop shutters in the Orchard Meadows area have been painted to make them look more interesting in the evenings. - Credit: Sub

THE vacancy rate in a Weston shopping area has fallen – but some traders fear turning ground floor shops into flats will reduce passing trade.

A former photography store in Orchard Street is in the process of having its trading floor turned into a ground floor flat and it is not the only one.

The change has received a mixed reception from business owners with some saying flats are better than empty shops, while others say it will lead to a decrease in footfall in the Orchard Meadows area of the town.

In the past 12 months, a number of applications have been received by North Somerset Council to turn some retail premises into flats.

The most recent was approved in February, for a retail floor at 55 Orchard Street to be turned into a two-bedroom self-contained ground floor flat.

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Converting the former Tom Gage Photography shop was approved in November, while a third application at 50 Orchard Street is yet to be decided upon.

Last May, the council said there was a 24 per cent vacancy rate in the area but it has dropped to 21 per cent.

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Paul Batts, chairman of Weston Business Improvement District (BID), said: “It is easy for people to read it as a great big shop being turned into living accommodation.

“The reality is a lot of the shops such as Tom’s were houses converted into shops, and are quite small to rent out.

“But as long as there is activity in the area, it will work as a healthy mix of commercial and residential.

“It will be a good thing as when it happens, people who live in the street will be going to the shops and coffee shops.”

Amanda Broad, who has been at the Craft Store for 13 years, said she was glad it would not be left as another empty shop.

She said: “When people come from the High Street to our independent shops the first thing they see are the shutters down. One has been closed for about 13 years.

“People who come for the cafés see the empty shops and turn around and go back. They get as far as the top of the street and think there’s nothing down here.

“A flat is better than being empty and vandalised.”

But Iain Cullum, who has run the T-Shirt Emporium for the past six years, said: “We hardly get any passing trade down here anymore.

“The less shops there are the less reason people have to walk down here.”

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