Town Centre Improvements
Over the summer parts of Ashford Town Centre looked a little different as new seating, furnishings and bunting decorated upper Bank Street and Middle Row.
This temporary pilot scheme delivers some interventions that links to key themes from the Town Centre Reset – integrated play, feature lighting, temporary public realm and outdoor seating. If successful this could lead to further, more permanent features in the future.
This short-term regeneration project aimed to encourage active and healthy lifestyles by introducing informal play opportunities, attractive places to meet and dwell and enhancing of public spaces.
The Ashford Town Centre Reset is designed to reset the town centre in light of the decline in retail which has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The council is working to ensure that the town centre remains relevant following new developments within the town, making Ashford a place to live, work, visit and invest in, enhancing and embracing the areas which give Ashford its character.
The report focusses on several projects which will help revitalise the area. These will follow the same themes as the council’s Recovery Plan, which is the workplan for the next 18 months while the borough recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The key points include:
- improving the links between key destinations such as the station and New Town Works to the town centre itself, making it easier to walk and cycle between them;
- encouraging independent retailers to the newly revitalised area;
- ensuring that the increasing numbers of people living within the town centre have the infrastructure they need close to their homes;
- build on the community spirit within the town centre, as shown by the success of events like Snowdogs, Illuminites and Create Festival;
- improving the gateways to the new high street – Elwick Road and Victoria Road.
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 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.