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Vicarage Lane project update

Last updated 31 July 2020

Ashford Borough Council has appointed specialist developer, Milligan, to help deliver the ambitious Vicarage Lane town centre redevelopment project. The new team also includes MICA (architect) and AECOM (project manager).

The scheme, which includes the former Mecca bingo hall in the Lower High Street, is a proposed mixed use development, aiming to deliver quality homes, cultural and performance space, food and drink outlets and workspace to complement the market town’s history and heritage.

The council’s proposals include the part demolition of the rear of the former bingo hall to reveal an uninterrupted view to the iconic Grade I listed St Mary’s Church, while retaining the high street frontage of the building to create a multi-use indoor event space.

Explaining why they had chosen to bring in Milligan, Cllr Paul Clokie, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for corporate property, said it had been looking for “a stand-out performer who was passionate about using the Vicarage Lane scheme as a catalyst for town centre regeneration”.

He added: “We believe this scheme will help rejuvenate Ashford, enhance our cultural offer, create significant employment opportunities and help attract inward investment for the benefit of local communities.

“High Streets were facing challenging times even before the Coronavirus pandemic sent our town centres into lockdown.

“As we emerge from lockdown there is an even more compelling need for our High Streets to reinvent themselves and what they offer. The council is committed to revitalising Ashford’s town centre and I’m confident that this specialist team will help us take this exciting scheme forward.”

The specialist team

Developer Milligan has a rich pedigree of developing mixed-use projects with inspiring retail and leisure at their heart. It has developed, asset-managed or partnered on properties valued at more than £5bn and has developed over 3m sq ft in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Barcelona, and Bilbao as well as operating the retail and leisure at Camden Lock Market. The Milligan approach is to drive value to all stakeholders by creating places where communities and businesses can thrive. www.milliganretail.com

Stuart Harris, Chief Operating Officer at Milligan, said: “This is an exciting regeneration project and we are delighted to be working with Ashford Borough Council, which is a forward-looking and proactive local authority. We look to develop places where people are inspired to live, work, and play and that provide lasting value for their communities. We have a long-standing relationship with Ashford as some of our team were involved in the development and leasing of the Designer Outlet 20 years ago. Through more recent work we’ve developed good regional knowledge of independent and emerging start-up artisanal companies, who we would love to see come to Ashford alongside some of the great independents already trading in the town.” 

MICA will lead the design team and provide architectural design services, building on the existing masterplanning work carried out by Ash Sakula architects, and bringing regeneration and planning expertise to evolve the concept design through to a successful planning application. 

The front of the old Mecca building in Ashford Town Centre

MICA is an award-winning architecture and conservation architecture practice with extensive residential, public and heritage experience, from the successful and vibrant Southbank Centre masterplan and Centre Point regeneration to arts projects for Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and Rambert School; multiple projects in the heart of Oxford to the new Fairfield mixed use development in Croydon. Our approach is analytical and perceptive, with an emphasis on engaging and co-designing with communities and a bespoke approach to our projects.   

Director Stuart Cade said: “MICA is delighted to be selected by the council for the mixed use redevelopment of its historic Vicarage Field. The site and brief provides an extraordinary opportunity to weave a unique development into the town’s fabric, reinforcing the Lower High Street.”

AECOM has been chosen as project manager and quantity surveyor. AECOM is the world’s premier infrastructure firm, delivering professional services across the project lifecycle – from planning, design and engineering to consulting and construction management. It partners with clients in the public and private sectors to solve complex challenges and build legacies for future generations. AECOM is a Fortune 500 firm with revenues of $20.2bn in 2019. 

Project Director James Stonard said: “Our town centres and high streets are such an important part of our lives, both for the communities they serve and the economy they support. To work on a project that will build legacies for generations to come is incredibly exciting, and as a global organisation with an office in Ashford, my team are looking forward to bringing our expertise to a project that’s right on our doorstep.”

The background

Ashford Borough Council took occupation of the former Mecca bingo hall in September 2018. The building, which had previously housed an Odeon cinema, occupies a prominent position in the town centre and includes an adjacent car park off Vicarage Lane. A public consultation helped shape the vision for the site and led to emerging proposals, which included:

  • the part demolition of the main bingo hall to reveal the view to the iconic Grade I Listed St Mary’s Church,
  • retention of the Lower High Street frontage with the creation of a multi-use indoor event space seating 120 people,
  • the creation of a pleasant pedestrian route through the site and a new public square and event space,
  • around 60 new homes and residential parking,
  • employment uses with associated car parking,
  • opportunities for shops, restaurants and cafes.

Last year a request by the Cinema Theatre Association to have the former Mecca building listed was rejected by the Government after it agreed with Historic England not to add it to the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest because it failed to meet the relevant criteria.