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Ashford Town Centre, taken September 2021

Town Centre Support Grant launched

Published: 25/10/2021

A new grants scheme has been launched by Ashford Borough Council to support businesses to improve the visual appearance of Ashford Town Centre and to support them to improve their premises or attract investment into empty units.

The Ashford Town Centre Support Grants is made up of two grant streams:

Shop Improvement Grant

A grant of up to £3,000 for a business that can demonstrate they are due to undertake needed improvements to their premises in the town centre. This grant covers 75% of the costs and can help fund external renovations to premises such as repainting, repairs, signage, or internal repairs and improvements, the installation of energy efficiency measures and non-fixed improvements such as commercial furniture or appliances.

Empty Premises Grant

A grant of up to £10,000 for a business that can demonstrate they are bringing a unit in the town centre back into use and needs support for the refurbishment. This grant covers 75% of the costs and can help fund external and internal works, as well as any energy efficiency measures or fit-out work that is needed.

This grants programme is financed from Ashford’s remaining share of the Government’s Additional Restrictions Grants (ARG) therefore the funds are limited and have a limited time for it to be used.

Applications are therefore initially due to be open from 21 October 2021 to 5 December 2021. Businesses can check if they are eligible and find out how to apply via the Council's website.

Cllr Nathan Iliffe, portfolio holder for regeneration & corporate property, said: “During the pandemic the council helped thousands of businesses stay afloat during a turbulent period for the business community.

“Now this additional support grant will focus on those town centre businesses who need further support and we hope Ashford Town Centre recovers after the Covid-19 pandemic and can achieve its full potential moving forward.”

Due to the nature of these grants and the nature of the works, many projects will probably need Planning Permission or similar regulatory obligations. Therefore businesses are encouraged to contact the Economic Development Team ahead of submitting an application on discretionary.grants@ashford.gov.uk.

Ashford Borough Council has taken a pro-active approach to supporting local businesses with the ARG grants and therefore has been able to support over 400 businesses and thus safeguard approximately 800 jobs between November 2020 and July 2021, on top of over 5,000 businesses supported through the LRSG and Restart schemes.

Graphic showing ABC's support to businesses by paying around 12,000 grants and over £56m to support 5,000 businesses

Rationale for this scheme

The council has been assessing options for wider business support funded by the ARG allocation. We have engaged with partner organisations like the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce to identify the best form of support that this funding could cover.

The aim has been to complement the offer of business support in the borough that is being deployed across Ashford and Kent already, particularly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

There is growing evidence that Ashford needs a Town Centre Support Grant scheme similar to other such programmes administered by some other councils in the county. The lack of grant funding targeted at supporting improvements and set-up costs for premises in the town centre is hampering Ashford’s efforts to secure investment.

The council is keen to provide the best impact in a relatively short period of time with the limited funding available. For this reason as well, the chosen option has been to create this scheme rather than pursue other options.

The retail sector has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic which has quickened the challenges that the town centre already faced. With a vacancy rate over 15%, Ashford has an above average amount of empty retail premises. Coupled with the ambition to make visual improvements to the town centre, this scheme can help tackle some of the issues being faced.

The council has therefore created this scheme to provide support to the Ashford Town Centre and thus create the most positive impact for a long-standing issue, compounded by Covid-19, with limited funding and timings.