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Grant scheme launches to support and bring in new businesses to the Town Centre

Published: 26/10/2023
Ashford Town Centre High Street

A new town centre business grants scheme has launched this week. The scheme will provide businesses the opportunity to apply for funding support to bring empty premises back into use and enable improvements to their current properties.

Following on from the success of the Ashford Town Centre Support Grant in 2021/22, Cabinet agreed in July, to use £140,000 of section 106 funding (from the Designer Outlet expansion) to deliver this grants scheme.

Proposed benefits of the scheme include increased footfall, decreased vacancy rates, improved business resilience for successful applicants and positive news stories for the Town Centre.

The scheme is now live, and businesses are encouraged to apply via our Business Support web page.

The Ashford Town Centre Business Grant provides support to landlords or tenants to make improvements to their business premises and attract investment.

There are two grant schemes: The Shop Improvement Grant and the Empty Premises Grant. Both could help cover 60% of the eligible costs of works.

  • The Shop Improvement Grant could provide up to £3,000 for work that needs to be carried out such as repairs, renovations, shopfront works energy efficiency improvements or accessibility improvements.
  • The Empty Premises Grant could provide up to £10,000 for bringing an empty town centre unit back into use.

The deadline for this round of applications is Sunday 10 December 2023.

Previous scheme in numbers

The previous Ashford Town Centre Support Grants opened from October to December 2021 and saw the council approve 23 grants totalling £87,819. Of these, 17 grants were Shop Improvement Grants and were Empty Premises Grants.

These grants resulted in a total investment value of over £243,000, with all of the six shops brought back into use still trading and creating an estimated 10 new jobs in the town centre. Approximately 65 jobs were also supported through the Shop Improvement Grant.

The trial ATCSG allowed the council to test the concept of town centre grants. Importantly, all 23-businesses supported by the grant scheme continued to trade from their premises for at least 12 months after the grant was awarded.

National challenges seen in Ashford

As of July 2023, Ashford Town Centre has a vacancy rate over 15%, which is above the national average of 11%. Higher vacancy rates in the town centre led to lower footfall, to lower turnover for businesses currently in the town and to higher levels of anti-social behaviour.

Whilst there could be legislation being introduced to tackle long-term vacant high street properties, action can be taken now to incentivise investment into these properties in Ashford. The proposed grant scheme will incentivise investment into empty premises as well as enable improvements to currently active properties that support the tenant businesses.

Council role in supporting businesses

The Town Centre Reset, approved by Cabinet in November 2022, considers what role the council can play to directly influence any ‘reset’ of the traditional town centre area so that it can remain relevant in the current economic climate. Town Centre Grants are a proven method to affect change directly and quickly to revitalise town centres and support the businesses trading there.

Cllr Heather Hayward, Portfolio Holder for Performance and Direction: “The Council is committed to tackling some of the issues we are seeing nationally in our town centres, particularly around empty shops. We have seen locally that this type of grant scheme can work to bring much needed improvements to active premises and fill empty properties.

“The last grant scheme showed that £88,000 can lead to nearly £250,000 in investment, 75 jobs created or supported, additional Business Rates receipts and six newly filled premises and we hope to see further positive outcomes again.

“This is a great opportunity to tackle Ashford Town Centre’s vacancy rate, revitalise our town centre, support investment and job creation and support some energy efficiency measures for premises. All without impacting our core service delivery budget by using the funding coming from developer s106 monies.”