A major new leisure development in Ashford has been given final approval, paving the way for a cinema, hotel and seven restaurants on land at Elwick Place.
Ashford Borough Council will fund construction of the new town centre complex, which marks another step forward in Ashford’s major regeneration project.
The announcement was made by Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader of Ashford Borough Council, at last week’s Cabinet meeting.
Planning permission was granted in December 2015. Formal approval for the borough council to fund the development, subject to resolving a number of outstanding matters, was given by councillors in April 2016. An announcement followed at the end of June that the town centre cinema will be operated by Picturehouse, Cineworld’s boutique cinema brand.
Some preparatory work is being undertaken on site and further enabling works will take place in the New Year. Further timescales will be announced in due course.
Cllr Clarkson said: “It is pleasing to announce another significant development on one of our major regeneration projects. Already, the impressive Ashford College building signifies a promising future, not just for the students who will pass through its doors, but it now stands watch over an area of the town that will see the development of brown field sites at Elwick Place, the Commercial Quarter and Victoria Way.
“We are evolving as a council. We are commercially-minded, adopting practices seldom seen in local government to achieve our ambition of delivering a vibrant town centre, inward investment and a future where we are self-reliant. This approach is valued by central government and by developers, and we look forward to working closely with Stanhope over the months ahead.”
Cllr Neil Shorter, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for budget and resource management, said: “As well as ensuring the delivery of Elwick Place, this illustrates Ashford Borough Council’s enterprising approach. We are business-like, delivering investment and creating jobs. This approach is securing an economic base that enables us to continue to deliver the services that are valued by residents right across the borough while remaining, by some distance, the lowest taxing authority in Kent.”
The borough council’s strategy is to be able to operate free of government grant by the 2018-19 financial year, with government funding having reduced by 40% in the last six years. It proposes to use the income generated through rents and business rates to sustain and improve its services without the need for central government funding.
This is an approach that is proving successful already, with a report to Cabinet members in October showing that the council’s acquisitions are providing a strong return on investment – with a significant return for the council on International House and for Wilko. It has also retained half of the growth in business rates it has seen above its baseline position through the promotion of inward investment and creating a climate for economic growth among businesses of all sizes in the borough.
Cllr Graham Galpin, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for town centres and business, said: “We are making a big statement here to businesses and residents. This council is so passionate about the success of its town centre that it is once again investing in it. Park Mall was in need of a lift, so we acquired it and have transformed its fortunes, offering smaller business owners the flexibility to build their livelihoods. Elwick Place is needed to stimulate Ashford’s night-time economy.”
Cllr Clarkson concluded: “Ashford is a place of positive action with a can-do authority that continues to place its faith in a revived and reinvigorated town centre. These are really exciting times for Ashford.”