Ashford means business

Ashford means business

Ashford is the fastest growing town between London and the continent and continues to attract regional, national and international investors. Cllr Gerry Clarkson, leader of Ashford Borough Council, explains why businesses from across the globe are flocking to the town...

Ashford is going through extraordinary and exciting changes. Over the past few years, its reputation for nurturing success and innovation has attracted investors from far and wide, strengthening its status as a thriving international town.

It already has over 6,000 registered businesses and 51,000 employees, including a number of hugely successful national and international companies such as Coty Inc, Brakes, Hitachi and Premier Foods; and with a diverse portfolio of ambitious development continuing to transform the Ashford landscape this year, many more businesses are capitalising on the opportunities to invest in Kent’s largest borough.

One of Ashford’s biggest assets is its unrivalled transport links. This has played a vital role in its success. In fact, excellent connectivity with the UK and Europe was cited as a major reason why Ashford was rated as ‘the best business location in Kent’ in a 2014 study of investors, developers and business leaders.

It’s the only town in the UK that can boast such direct international rail links and high-speed train services to London (just 38 minutes to the Capital and under two hours to Paris); while its central location on the M20 corridor provides fast access for businesses needing to get their products distributed quickly to customers. A proposed new junction 10a on the M20, a nationally significant infrastructure project costing £70m, is being considered by the planning inspectorate and will further unlock development potential and increase capacity.

Ashford also has a strong competitive edge which gives it the upper hand over other towns in the South East. There’s a high volume of exceptional quality, modern office space suitable for businesses of all sizes yet commercial rates in Ashford are 73% lower than in London. Businesses have access to a strong labour market, with a large proportion of highly skilled workers, not to mention 1.7 million potential employees living within a 60-minute drive; but Ashford’s location in the heart of Kent means that employee costs are 28% lower than in London.

Ashford Borough Council’s hands-on approach to driving forward key developments, and the huge support that we offer new businesses, is also a key factor in attracting companies. They like our can-do attitude and our enthusiasm.

We don’t just pursue ambitious, large-scale developments that will unlock opportunities for investors, we also provide financial support for key projects to secure the town’s future.

For example, Ashford Borough Council is funding construction of the Elwick Place development in the heart of the town, which will breathe new life into a vacant 6.42 acre brownfield site with a six-screen boutique cinema, hotel, and eight restaurants / bars. The cinema will complement the recently approved IMAX at M20 J9.

We have also just granted planning permission for the first phase of the Commercial Quarter, a dynamic new South East business hub in the heart of the town which will deliver 80,500 sq ft of development to include office space with retail and restaurants.

Our endorsement means the Commercial Quarter can now maximise the advantages of its prime location opposite Ashford International Station, stimulating major investment opportunities and creating several hundred jobs, 590,000 sq ft of office space and 150 homes.

Further commercial development is under way at Ashford’s OrbitalPark, where Salmon Harvester Properties’ £8m Axiom scheme, featuring 55,000 sq ft in seven industrial and warehouses, has just been completed.

Park Mall, which was an under-performing shopping centre until the council bought it last summer, is continuing with its renaissance, attracting a growing number of quality independent retailers and businesses. In fact, most of the vacant units have already been filled, while footfall has risen by around 7% and it already offers a healthy return on the council’s investment.

Plans from Curious Drinks Limited, the beer and cider subsidiary of Ashford’s Chapel Down winery, to build a state-of-the-art brewery and visitor attraction in the heart of Ashford are recommended for approval. The plans would enable it to increase its domestic and international distribution; and we’ve thrown our full support behind a £4m model railway centre by agreeing to provide a secured loan to purchase land for its new home. Both of these schemes will provide a major boost to our tourism industry.

Strong demand and a buoyant local economy have encouraged one of the borough’s biggest success stories, Kent Space, to bring forward plans to increase its serviced office and self-storage facilities, bringing the firm’s investment in the town to £5.5m; and global workspace provider Regus has recognised Ashford’s potential by opening its first location here to meet growing demand for flexible, cost-effective workspace.

Of course, having a happy workforce is another big factor when companies are deciding to relocate or expand and one of the most attractive aspects of living and working in Ashford is the quality of life here. That’s why Ashford ranked highly in the last Halifax Quality of Life survey.

All of this commercial investment is being complemented by major quality housing developments: U+I and Saudi-backed GRE Assets are planning 800 homes and new amenities across two sites; and Crest Nicholson’s prime Finberry development, a new community on the south eastern outskirts of Ashford, continues to take shape. Once complete, it will comprise 1,180 homes, plus commercial space, a primary school, convenience store, restaurant, health centre, community centre and sports pitches.

Work is due to start soon on the 5,750-home neighbourhood at Chilmington Green, designed on garden city principles. Quality is at the heart of the development, reinforced by the Quality Charter which each developer has signed up to.

First-rate education and healthcare provision is a key priority. Construction work on the new£26m Ashford College Campus, for which the council is providing financial support, will be completed in time for students to move in next September; and we now have an innovative new £30m hospital, One Healthcare Ashford, providing affordable private healthcare delivered by leading specialists.

With all these exciting developments now coming to fruition, Ashford’s dynamic growth is set to continue. Ashford is really going places and now’s the time to get involved.