LEDBURY traders are to meet with town councillors to discuss the noticeable issue of vacant shops.

This follows fears that the market town is steadily losing one of its strongest selling points, namely a vibrant town centre full of unique and independent outlets.

The issue has been brought to the fore by Ledbury resident, Edd Hogan, who recently walked the town, taking pictures of recently closed shops; and now he is now asking, "are we losing what makes Ledbury special?"

Mr Hogan said: "Ledbury’s bustling and thriving local independent shops are closing down at an alarming rate. The Times regularly lists Ledbury as one of the jewels in the Midlands – one of the best places to live in the UK – and the variety and scale of the independent shops is always singled out as one of the stand-out positive features.

"However that crown may be taken away as more and more shops are closing and not being replaced by new start-ups. The top part of New Street is now dominated by closed shops displaying ‘to let’ and ‘for sale’ signs. Exactly why there are so many closed shops could be the result of a tough economic climate, high levels of rent and rates, reducing footfall and sales, or a combination of these and other factors."

He added: "The question now is how the town can improve its look and feel until new tenants open. In other parts of the country empty shops have been turned into community spaces or short term ‘meanwhile’ spaces for artisans, craftspeople and small businesses. The high street is changing across the country and Ledbury is not immune to the challenges but there are also opportunities to revitalise empty shops. Time will tell if Ledbury can adapt to these changes."

The problem of closing shops has already been noticed by Ledbury Town Council.

Town clerk, Angela Price, has issued a statement from the council, which said:"Ledbury Town Council are aware of the issues in respect of Ledbury town centre shops closing and no new traders taking up occupancy and are saddened by this, as are the traders and residents.

"The council feels it is an issue that should be addressed and to this end an item will be placed on the agenda of the Economic Development and Planning Committee for discussion at the next meeting, which is scheduled for February 13."

She added: "The council is hoping to meet and work with local traders on this issue and would welcome any input from local residents on this."

Homend retailer and former town mayor, Annette Crowe, thinks that businesses on streets just off the High Street and the Homend may be finding conditions extra tough.

But she said: "It's always been difficult, and market conditions are difficult for everyone. There's a constant battle with the internet, although some Ledbury business do embrace internet selling."

And the outlook should not be all doom and gloom.

Mrs Crowe, who is also a former chairman of the Ledbury Traders' Association said: "Ledbury is surviving better than a lot of town centres, because we are not dominated by High Street chains. We have independent traders whose hearts are with the town. They have special skills and specialist stock.

"It is difficult for businesses to survive, so we all must provide really good service."