Ashford in the New York TimesPosted on 24 June 2019
In his in-depth article analysing two cities, Preston in Northern England and Ashford in the South East, he looks at the different ways towns and communities have overcome the austerity measures put in place by central government, focusing on Ashford’s property market strategy.
“In 2013, [Ashford] council bought a block of 30 apartments and some shops on the edges of town, paying a mere £1 million. The following year, the council purchased a 12-story office tower next to the train station, paying £7.8 million, all of it borrowed.
“Then the council bought a forsaken shopping centre, the Park Mall, to inject life into the town center. Finally, it developed Elwick Place, a six-screen cinema plus restaurants, a hotel and a parking lot. […]
“[…] These investments have produced revenues expected to exceed £3 million this year. The office tower alone is yielding a 13 percent profit margin. The Park Mall is increasingly full of shoppers.”
Cllr. Gerry Clarkson’s vision to turn Ashford Borough Council into a business-like entity and invest in commercial and residential property has allowed the council to maintain its public services, despite the loss of his central government funding.
“All this has cushioned the blow as Ashford’s grant from the central government has shrunk to £125,000 last year from £8 million in 2010, on its way to zero for 2019. Ashford has managed to largely maintain its public services along with some of the lowest property tax rates in the country.”
These investments have produced revenues expected to exceed £3 million this year. The office tower alone is yielding a 13 percent profit margin. The Park Mall is increasingly full of shoppers.Peter S. Goodman, New York Times
To secure the town’s future is working to develop a strong sense of community in the town centre, to provide experiences you can’t get online or through e-commerce.
“Governments may fail to properly assess the risks of industries like retail, now being swiftly refashioned by e-commerce.
“Mr Clarkson hears this and grins the grin of a man unwilling to be defeated by small-minded concerns. “You can’t get your nails done online,” he says. “You can’t get a cup of coffee online.”
This is also reflected in the council’s involvement in developing unique experiences to bring people back into the town, such as Create Festival or the Ashford Snowdogs Arts Trail.
To read the full article, visit the New York Times’ website: Austerity has ravaged UK communities. It has also Spurred Reinvention.