With the rise of online shopping and changes in how people use their leisure time, high streets across the country are facing challenging times and decline. In recent years Ashford Borough Council has taken bold steps to support our town centre and it is now bucking some national trends with regards to footfall.
The Council has turned the fortunes of Park Mall shopping centre around after purchasing it in 2015 and has supported initiatives such as Revelation St Mary’s and Made in Ashford and created the Loveashford website to showcase the high street offer.
Major regeneration projects such as Ashford College, Elwick Place and the Commercial Quarter have all transformed the town while events such as the Snowdogs art trail, Fields of Battle Lands of Peace and Splashes of Summer have drawn crowds.
However, as the scale of the challenge grows and as other centres strongly compete to differentiate and diversify their offer, Ashford needs a clear future direction.
Last night (Thursday 14 March) Cabinet members endorsed the proposed Ashford Town Centre Framework, which brings together the planned and new activity to meet the aspirations of the local community and businesses and ensure our town centre is fit for the future.
Other reports, on proposals for the former Mecca building, and the proposed multi-storey car park on Station Road were also approved, with the three projects closely interlinked.
Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader of Ashford Borough Council, said: “The Town Centre Framework aims to provide a clear future direction for the town centre bringing together an inspiring and ambitious programme of events, activities and projects to enliven and enrich Ashford’s offer.
“In developing this plan we have listened carefully to what residents, businesses and partners have said about Ashford town centre. We must continue to work together to tackle the challenges facing our town centre to ensure our town is a place where people and businesses flourish.”
Ashford Town Centre Framework sets out the challenges that the town centre is currently facing including a lack of distinctive identity, a perceived weaker retail and cultural offer and accessibility issues for both pedestrians and vehicles.
The vision and objectives set out in the framework have been informed by the extensive consultation which ran from July to October 2018. The consultation sought responses from residents, local businesses and town centre visitors, with over 1000 comments received.
A total of £1.7m has been committed from various sources including section 106 contributions and national business rate retention.
A range of projects including a new outdoor performance space, exploring the potential for a new arts, entertainment and conference venue, the creation of a community events space and business hub at the Coachworks, a programme of events to animate the town centre, developing a business support programme for independent retailers, resurfacing the pedestrian and cycling routes in the underpass to the Outlet Centre and improved signage.