Student accommodation pushing Bath’s commercial offering further out of town

Paul Matthews, Head of Bruton Knowles’ Bristol office

Period costumes and student bars – Bath’s reputation as a world class destination for tourists and students is in danger of driving the city’s artisan business classes out of town – for good.

Plans to convert the Tramshed at Walcot into flats have re-ignited fears the city’s small business community is being sidelined as demand for tourist and student accommodation continues to soar.

The city’s battle-scarred Labour Exchange and Genesis Trust building is also earmarked for regeneration – with 78 rooms for  students and commercial space over three-storeys with commercial space limited to the bottom of the building.

Commercial property analysts at Bruton Knowles have been sounding the alarm on behalf of SMEs forced to look elsewhere by a double whammy caused by lack of space combined with briskly rising business rents.

Head of Bruton Knowles’ Bristol office Paul Matthews said: “Clients have been grumbling about this trend for years but they have begun voting with their feet as the last few small artisan business premises in the city have been knocked down or converted for residential or student accommodation.

“The Lower Bristol Road in particular has been transformed, with modern student flats replacing any number of artisan workshops, retail units and warehousing.

“While it’s great to see areas like the Southgate virtually fully occupied the city centre is in danger of becoming a no-go area for businesses looking for contemporary space.”

“Unlike Bristol, Bath has never had significant amounts of space going begging so the current craze for PDR conversion schemes has taken the heart out of the few commercial and artisan locations the city had left.

Bruton Knowles recently brokered a move for Source Antiques to a unit at Flowers Hill Close in Brislington.

Paul Matthews said: “This well-known Bath company was previously based at Midland Road in Bath, but rocketing business rates had forced them to look elsewhere.

“They spent two and a half years looking for suitable premises in Bath but the business rates being demanded were equivalent to them employing an extra member of staff.  Not all of Bath’s small businesses and artisans will fit into the railway arches.”

He concluded: “The shortage of small scale industrial space is beginning to bite. It might be time for the local authorities to look at freeing up more land close to the A4 Hicks Gate roundabout to help find room for firms being squeezed out of Bath.”