Ashford makes the headlines on French TVPosted on 11 April 2019
French journalist Mathilde Bonnassieux visited the Ashford town centre earlier this year to discover how the town has been bucking the national retail trends. Following the visit, Franco-German TV channel Arte featured a short documentary on Ashford, with interviews with the Leader of Ashford Borough Council, Cllr Gerry Clarkson, and Cllr Graham Galpin, portfolio holder for the town centre. This follows coverage in national newspapers including the Guardian, the Daily Mirror, the Telegraph Business and the Economist.
No, this isn’t a Saturday afternoon, but a typical Monday in Ashford, which is half an hour away from London. Ten years ago, the town centre was deserted, and shops were closing one after the other, but the Leader of Ashford Borough Council decided he couldn’t let his town die.
Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader of Ashford Borough Council: “We all face the online shopping challenges and it is the reason why we decided to buy Park Mall Shopping Centre and regenerate it. We let retailers move rent free, and once they open their shop, we’ll have an open book policy, and when they make a profit, we’ll charge a small rent then.”
The Council therefore bought the outdoors shopping centre, and Melissa Dawkins was able to get her own shop started.
Melissa Dawkins, Curator & Manager at Made in Ashford: “It starts at £5/week, so it’s a really low financial risk. This has been amazing for us. This year, the footfall has been fantastic, people are happy and the town centre is vibrant.”
But the Council doesn’t want its town centre to be just a shopping destination. They have also invested in events and culture with a brand-new cinema and art exhibits to make sure the Ashford town centre isn’t like any other. The Council wants to support independent retailers and help them thrive. And, while they have agreed to let one of the biggest shopping centres in town double in size, it was under certain conditions.
Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader of Ashford Borough Council: “What we’ve said is: we’ll let you double in size under two conditions. Firstly, we want you to expand towards the town centre, so that it can benefit from the expansion. Secondly, you shouldn’t have the same brands as the ones present in the town centre.”
The success has been such in Ashford that Cllr Graham Galpin has been invited to join a national panel of experts to advise on the future of High Streets. Since 2016, nearly 10,000 shops have closed across the UK, forcing the government to review its austerity measures.
Cllr Graham Galpin, Portfolio holder for the town centre: “Central government has taken the huge decision to invest €765 million (£675 million) in the Future High Streets fund to help them make changes that are absolutely necessary. It will also invest €1 billion (£900 million) to reduce the amount of business rates smaller businesses have to pay.”
If Ashford has become a regeneration model that has attracted investors, it’s also thanks to its unique location, 30 mins from London and on the Eurostar train line. We will need to see if this model can be replicated in cities further away from the capital.