Reset sets out next stage of development and regeneration of Ashford Town CentrePublished: 21/12/2022
There has never been a more important time to set out a clear focus and strategy for Ashford Town Centre.
High streets up and down the country are facing many challenges with the after-effects of the Covid pandemic joining the cost-of-living crisis, ongoing financial uncertainly, and the growing competition of online shopping. What is clear is that the space required for retail in town centres is shrinking.
Ashford Borough Council understands the challenges that our town centre residents, businesses, users and community groups face. Town Centres are facing considerable changes over a short period of time, being influenced by wider economic, environment and social changes. It is vital that we continue to invest in carefully thought-through ideas and solutions to help bring about significant change, for the benefit of all.
The Town Centre Reset – including the revitalisation of our High Street is a ‘Super 6’ project, and a key priority in our Corporate Plan 2022-24. It identifies a number of areas that require improvement and intervention, and these areas have had to be prioritised to focus available resources over the next few years.
In recent years Ashford has seen the introduction of new eateries, a cinema and hotels within the town centre to provide a changing offer, and it will need to continue to evolve in order to provide a destination and focal point that attracts residents to meet, for face-to-face services, retail and entertainment to be provided and for businesses to thrive.
Ashford’s footfall on the High Street has bucked this trend with figures showing a 20.9% increase in footfall year to date in 2022 compared with 2019. This shows that people are still engaging with Ashford Town Centre, which provides opportunity if the offer and environment can be improved.
Using part of the Welcome Back Fund provided by Government to support Town Centres to recover from the pandemic, the Council commissioned Milligan to undertake more detailed research into the town centre and put forward recommendations on areas of focus within the town centre that would help shape new actions over the next 3 years.
The Council has already implemented some small temporary interventions in the town centre. The ‘Parklets’ installed in Bank Street and Middle Row for a 10-week pilot period between August and October 2022 aimed to change the perception of these areas.
By taking parking spaces and re-purposing them for the public to use as places to sit and dwell, offering food outlet businesses more outside seating space, this enabled the Council to test this concept so that the results can inform future interventions.
A survey of local businesses recently conducted tells us that they would want the scheme to return again next year, to be implemented earlier, and to be in place for a longer period of time. A programme of successful events and festivals has also enlivened the area with performances and associated decoration - and showcased on www.loveashford.com.
Ashford’s high street has been the place to be with a series of family-friendly events and workshops as part of The Fabric of Ashford; The Place That Makes Us campaign. This year has featured a fabulous line-up of events throughout July and August including pop-up workshops, live music, storytelling workshops, street entertainment and art installations.
The countdown to Christmas begins this November as we welcome back Carnival of the Baubles to light up Ashford town centre. Loveashford are delighted to be working in partnership with Emergency Exit Arts, Made in Ashford and a host of talented local artists to bring this spectacular light procession to our high street on Saturday 26 November.
The Strategy suggests four key intervention areas which are:
- The T – the key focus for the next few years is prioritised around the junction of Bank Street, High Street and Middle Row by the bandstand as a key connecting point in the heart of the town. Proposed to become an area embracing independent boutique retail and eateries.
- Lower High Street – providing improvements to compliment the proposed development of the Former Odeon building. This area will see the development of cultural, community and entrepreneurial space, alongside neighbourhood commercial, utilising the great potential public realm in the Lower High Street area.
- Lower Bank Street – considerations for a more pedestrian sensitive bus and transport area, with improved and upgraded public realm over time.
- Elwick Place – continued focus as the leisure core to the town centre, with the Cinema and eateries making this a key destination during the day and evening.
Cllr Nathan Iliffe, portfolio holder for regeneration & economic development, said: “As the borough council, we recognise our role as an organisation that can foster our town to be an even better place in which to live, work and enjoy. This strategy provides a framework for making the town as attractive and dynamic as it can and should be.
“We believe that we are all stewards of the places in which we live and work. We all, therefore, have a role to play. We also have to accept that no single, short-term intervention can effect this change.
“Therefore this ‘Reset’ Strategy and associated Action Plan builds upon the work that has already been undertaken to kick-start the regeneration of Ashford Town Centre, and provides a range of scalable options, suggested activities and practical steps which can be used to help facilitate further growth and improvements.
“To be successful, we must be brave, ambitious, and distinctive. This Strategy and Action Plan is clear about what we stand for; it highlights what gives Ashford Town Centre its identity and how we can build on its strengths; and it intends to galvanise our community and stakeholders to help and support us in prioritising and delivering these actions over the months and years to come”.
£3 million has been allocated from existing budgets and s106 and UK Shared Prosperity Funding.
To view the full Cabinet report visit:
For more information on town centre improvements and the Carnival of the Baubles visit: