The next few weeks are a crucial time for Cheltenham’s shops, which do so much to give our town its diversity and vitality. They’ve held out brilliantly against the march of the clone stores, and I’ll be backing them this weekend on Small Business Saturday – a not-for-profit, grass-roots campaign to inspire and promote small businesses.
But more needs to be done to support our shop-owners and their customers.
I’m calling for a more muscular agenda to back Cheltenham and push back against the challenge from cities like Bristol, Birmingham and Gloucester.
The local authorities need to do three things. First, CBC have simply got to deliver free town centre parking after 6pm. Local councillors promised to introduce this measure in February 2016, before the local election, but then failed to follow through. Just at the time when we should be welcoming locals and visitors, Cheltenham’s expensive parking system puts them off.
Second, CBC and GCC have got to show some urgency about the state of the paving on the High Street. It disgraceful. John Lewis are appalled by the broken slabs and tarmac infills, and I’ve been holding meetings with their senior management in Parliament, and also with council bosses at Shire Hall, to try to force a way forward. I’m pleased that after a decade of blaming each other CBC and GCC are starting to cooperate and have committed hard cash for improvements. The work simply must be done by the time JL opens next year. No ifs, no buts.
Third, GCC need to review the new parking regime in the west of Cheltenham. The introduction of meters has stripped out a huge amount of valuable parking capacity previously used by shop staff, visitors and commuters. Parts of it feel deserted during the day and there has been a significant knock-on impact on Tivoli. A more calibrated, street-by-street, approach is required.
With these three simple steps I believe our fantastic town can get fit for even brighter Christmases to come.