Minister praises Ashford’s innovative town centre
High Street Minister Jake Berry MP has praised Ashford’s innovative approach to boosting the town centre and said other towns could learn a lot from its commitment to achieving success through strong partnerships.
Mr Berry’s responsibilities at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government include high streets and he was in Ashford on 26 April to find out how the town - led by Ashford Borough Council - has revitalised its town centre, increased footfall and is investing in new leisure and retail facilities.
After meeting retailers and shop owners during his 90 minute tour, he said:
“I have learnt a lot today. It’s great to have seen a town centre that is thriving and is enjoying an increase in the number of people visiting.
“It is a tribute to Ashford Borough Council and the traders involved. I have met some fantastic and passionate champions for the town centre and it’s obvious to me that this success comes from a strong partnership approach.”
Asked how other UK towns could learn from Ashford, he said: “What is unusual about the Ashford approach is the absolute dedication to creating a partnership between the local council and new and existing traders to drive the town centre forward. With the support of local MP Damian Green and others, they have found new and innovative ways of regenerating the town centre and I applaud this.”
The tour took in Park Mall shopping centre - which the borough council bought in 2015 - the high street and County Square shopping centre, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary and which attracted over six million visitors a year for the first time in 2017.
He also visited Elwick Place, a new 100,000 sq ft town centre cinema, hotel and restaurant complex due to open later this year.
Ashford MP Damian Green, who joined the tour, said:
“It’s great that we are in a position in Ashford to show off the town centre to a government minister. Most town centres in the UK are struggling and asking for help but here in Ashford we recognised that the key to success is forging a powerful partnership between business, the local council and others.
“The town centre is being reinvigorated and more and more people are being attracted.”
During his tour the minister met Park Mall shop owner Melissa Dawkins of Aye Aye Clothing, who told him: “Our business is up 30% on this time last year and the number of repeat visits is very high - people keep coming back for more! We are constantly trying out new things, last year we cleared away the window displays and had crafts people sitting in the window producing their goods, with shoppers stopping to watch.”
Cllr Graham Galpin, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for the town centres and business, said:
“We have faced many challenges in reinvigorating our town centre but we are reaping the benefits of our dynamic approach to making our high street a fantastic place to visit and shop.
“We have gone from being a Portas Pilot town with much untapped promise to having a town centre with a quality and varied retail offer. People care passionately about their high street and the statistics show that they vote with their feet when the offer is right.
“We have made Ashfordians love their town centre again,” added Cllr Galpin.
For more information about Ashford town centre visit www.loveashford.com