Ashford’s entrepreneurial approach celebrated in national journal

Posted on 16 May 2019

In the latest edition of RICS Property Journal, May/June 2019, editor Claudia Conway looks at how Ashford Borough Council has been using real-estate assets to regenerate the area and run its services after losing its government grant.

“The council has taken advantage of the government-granted ability to create arm’s-length commercial bodies.”

Claudia Conway, Editor, Property Journal

By investing in real estate, the local authority has taken a calculated risk to self-fund its services and offer residents a higher quality of life.

“The council took the unusual move of purchasing a failing local shopping centre, Park Mall – a 34-unit asset, almost a third of which was untenanted. The aim was not to create a direct profit-producer but rather to drive improvement of the town centre as a whole.”

By offering rent-free accommodation to tenants for up to a year, the council has been able to attract retailers, both national and independent, and fully let the shopping centre, bringing life back into its high street.

Park Mall, Park Mall aShford, Shopping Centre Ashford
Park Mall, in Ashford

Ashford Borough Council has also invested in commercial and industrial property to regenerate the town as a whole and attract new businesses. A bold move that’s now proving to be an excellent investment.

“Last year, the council reported […] International House delivered a return on investment of 12.6 per cent, Ellingham Industrial Estate 12.3 per cent, Stanhope shops nine per cent and Wilko 8.8 per cent.”

International House, International House Ashford, Office Space Ashford, Commercial Property Ashford
International House, opposite Ashford International

They also have a clear focus on residential property and have driven change to help raise the standard of living in the borough and attract more people, including young professionals who can’t afford the prohibitive London costs.

“[The council introduced] minimum space standards for houses and garden to help encourage families to stay in the area.”

With good links to London via High Speed 1, a 38-minute journey from St Pancras, [Ashford] may be able to profit from those priced-out of the capital by creating an economic and social offering that appeals to this young demographic.

Claudia Conway, Editor, Property Journal

But purchasing property is not the only thing Ashford Borough Council has in mind to help attract new residents and revive the town.

“Clarkson stresses the importance of dealing with small details that can make a centre seem neglected – the council demanded the replacement of an unattractive signboard outside the historic town-centre church and restored a dilapidated bandstand in the high street that now hosts musical performances.”

On top of making much-needed improvements in the town centre, the Council has also been putting on events to get families back into the town. Adding value to its high street, offering people an experience they can’t get online has been key to bringing the community back in the heart of the town.

‘Have courage, be entrepreneurial, be visionary; and you have to use the assets you have in your location.’

Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader, Ashford Borough Council

Other local authorities can all take inspiration from these examples. But it’s not about copying and pasting Ashford’s strategy, local councils need to use their own heritage, history and location as a key driver of success.

“Clarkson’s advice to other local authorities is: ‘Have courage, be entrepreneurial, be visionary; and you have to use the assets you have in your location.’

“Other authorities can learn from Ashford’s example if they look at their own strengths and opportunities, focusing on the needs of people and creating a sense of vibrancy in town centres: ‘It’s about thinking of the community and the heartbeat.’”

Read the full article in the RICS’ Property Journal