Supporting the Ashford town centrePosted on 28 January 2020
Nationally the retail market is changing, and Ashford is holding its own in challenging times. The town centre offer is being adapted and diversified to reflect local demands - giving residents a reason to visit, while also supporting local businesses.
Footfall in Ashford went up 7.2% in 2019, with 3.5m visitors over the year. The council is doing all it can to support the high street and town centre retailers with events and free parking to draw people in, and providing support and advice to businesses.
The council has invested in sites including Park Mall shopping centre and the former Mecca Bingo site. When the council purchased Park Mall in 2015, about a third of the 34 units were empty and a number of the units which were there were charity based/related. The purchase was not about the income, it was about responding to the calls of residents to make Park Mall a thriving part of the town centre again and turn its fortunes around.
There are an increasing number of innovative, high-quality, independent retailers; the council has supported Made In Ashford, a social enterprise project bringing together about 50 crafts people selling from one shop unit, but also running workshops for the community and hosting Bare Bazaar, a package free shop selling food and household goods. This enterprise with the support of the council has been running for over four years and is going from strength to strength.
There are new faces and continued investment in the town including the new Picturehouse cinema and Chapel Down Brewery, Travelodge, a new 120 bed hotel under construction, retailers like JD Sports, and Deichmann, as well as Metro Bank, and new bars and restaurants such as Glasshouse, Macknade, Dansaki and Snap Fitness gym.
Of course, some retailers have left as well, but such is the nature of high streets everywhere, and shops will continue to come and go. To make our town centre an appropriate community place for shopping and much more we need to offer something beyond just a shopping experience.
The council’s Loveashford website and social media channels showcase the high street offer, and the events organised by the team have helped bring people into the town. The success of initiatives such as Snowdogs is proof that people respond to community engagement events that add an extra layer to the retail experience. We want to continue supporting retail like this to encourage footfall into town.
The success of initiatives such as Snowdogs is proof that people respond to community engagement events that add an extra layer to the retail experience.
After speaking to local businesses, the council has offered free parking after 3pm, Sundays and Bank Holidays in some locations. Town centre footfall and car park use has increased as a result.
The council is working with partners to ensure the space left by departing retailers is filled with innovative measures to encourage tourism, education and fun. A more flexible approach to planning matters allows a broader range of uses within the town centre. This acknowledges how town centres are changing and will no longer be solely supported by traditional retail development, having to expand their offer to wider uses in order to maintain their vitality and viability.
These are challenging times for high streets but we believe that our town centre is worth supporting and will continue to have a bright future.