Another landmark year for Ashford

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Stanhope PLC’s £75m Elwick Place leisure complex.

Ashford set a scorching pace for economic growth in 2016, as a number of the town’s major investment projects reached significant milestones.

As Kent’s number one business location continues to power ahead with its ambitious regeneration in 2017, development is set to transform the Ashford skyline.

OFFICE AND COMMERCIAL:
Phase one of the Commercial Quarter, a dynamic South East business hub in a prime location opposite Ashford International Station, is now under way and is expected to be completed by spring next year. Quinn Estates and George Wilson Holdings will deliver 80,500 sq ft of prime development, including offices, retail and restaurants.

Global workspace provider Regus opened its first Ashford centre to meet growing demand; while Kent Space plans to increase its serviced office and self-storage facilities, bringing the firm’s investment in the town to £5.5m. Further commercial development has been completed at Orbital Park, where Salmon Harvester Properties’ £8m Axiom scheme has delivered 55,000 sq ft of industrial and warehouse space.

RETAIL:
Proposals to expand the Ashford Designer Outlet were fully endorsed by the council, with McArthurGlen planning on adding 38 stores and six restaurants to the 80 luxury and premium brands already trading there. In the town centre, the regeneration of Park Mall continues following the council’s bold decision to buy the struggling shopping centre. Most of the vacant units have now been filled with a mix of local independent start-up businesses and footfall has risen by around seven per cent.

As if to prove that retail investment is child’s play, international toy store Smyths has recently opened in a 15,000 sq ft unit at Ashford Retail Park at Sevington. The established edge-of-town site has enjoyed a makeover in the past year, attracting a host of new tenants including B&M Bargains, Dreams, Tapi Flooring and Costa Coffee.

LEISURE:
Several town centre developments took a major step forward in 2016 – including Stanhope PLC’s £75m Elwick Place leisure complex. Final approval from Ashford Borough Council has paved the way for a six-screen cinema (operated by Cineworld’s boutique cinema brand, Picturehouse), a hotel and seven restaurants. The local authority is to fund construction and preliminary ground work is scheduled to start within the next three months.

U+I has been given the green light for a 120-bedroom hotel in Victoria Way and a £55m scheme featuring an 18,500 sq ft Aldi supermarket, 216 homes, and a Chapel Down brewery and visitor centre. The property regeneration company is also working with developer Quinn Estates and specialist private rented sector operator Neighbour to deliver a mixed-use regeneration project at the old Powergen site in Victoria Way, to include 660 homes, new public realm and a café. Carrington Group’s proposals for 59 apartments just off Victoria Way have also been approved.

Ashford International Model Railway Education Centre, an innovative £4m tourist attraction in the heart of the town, was given a huge boost last spring after the council agreed to support it with a secured loan to purchase land for its new home. Fund-raising for the exciting project is now in full swing. In December, one of the world’s most successful trampolining franchises announced it was coming to the town. Entrepreneurs Lisa and Steve Wootton are investing £1.5m to transform a 28,000 sq ft former packaging factory on the Henwood Industrial Estate to launch Flip Out in early 2017.

On Eureka Leisure Park, Land Securities’ plans to expand the popular Cineworld site to develop another three screens, including Kent’s second IMAX screen, were given the green light by local councillors.

EDUCATION:
September heralded Ashford College’s topping out ceremony to celebrate construction of the town centre’s new £26m further and higher education campus reaching roof height. The college, part of the Hadlow Group, is being built in two phases by BAM Construction, providing 7,135 sq m of floor space and capacity for more than 1,000 students. The state-of-the-art vocational skills and training facility, which opens in September, will provide apprenticeship opportunities across 20 industries and is key to the town’s growth and prosperity.

TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE:
In December, Highways England awarded Vinci a £39.1m contract to construct a new junction on the M20. Ashford is already renowned for its unrivalled location – only 38 minutes by high-speed train from London St Pancras and under two hours to Paris – and this long-awaited £70m transport improvement is set to unlock the potential for further growth.

Junction 10a will be built 700m east of Junction 10 and will connect to the A20 and a new dual carriageway link road built to the A2070 near Sevington. A £33m project to widen the A28 will increase capacity ahead of the development of a 5,750-home neighbourhood at Chilmington Green.

Cllr Gerry Clarkson, Leader of Ashford Borough Council, said: “It is an exciting year ahead. Ashford College will open to students while work will start on site at the Commercial Quarter, Chilmington Green and along Victoria Way.

“In the coming years the town will be transformed with a new Chapel Down brewery, an expanded Designer Outlet Centre as well as a boutique cinema in the heart of the town centre, and there are many other exciting developments on the horizon, which will truly put the borough on the map.

“The council has invested the money it raises into key assets including International House office block and Park Mall shopping centre, which are providing a positive return on behalf of the people of Ashford, thus demonstrating our commitment to playing a key role in the town’s transformation as well as supporting our desire to be self-sufficient from government funding.

“There is a great deal more to be done but we can all take heart from the significant amount of improvements we have seen in recent times and the council will continue to focus on creating opportunities to encourage economic growth, providing business and leisure facilities and building quality homes to live in across the borough.

“Ashford is on the cusp of becoming a truly vibrant and engaging place.”