We’re alive and kicking – don’t call us a graveyard
Mrs Burt accepted that most businesses had issues with rates but felt landlords had to be more realistic.
“If you speak to all of the shops they will all say that about business rates,” she said.
“The business rates are linked to the rents but in the climate there’s a lot of renegotiation and the landlords have had to be a little bit more realistic.”
Cllr Galpin added: “We understand that business rates are a concern for traders, and there is continual challenge of balancing public sector budgets and the need to support local businesses.
“We have no magical powers to force new businesses come in and take up empty shop units. What we can do is work in every other area that we can to make Ashford appealing to new businesses, and to boost visitor numbers and customer spending.”
firstname.lastname@example.org A shopping centre boss has hit back at a news article which described County Square as a “high street graveyard”.
National newspaper the Observer ran a story on Sunday which painted a less than positive picture of the shopping centre, which opened in 2007.
It blamed the empty shops in Ashford on rising business rates. Business reporter Simon Neville, noting the empty HMV, Jessops, Jane Norman and Game stores, wrote: “The County Square shopping centre in the heart of Ashford, looks less like a hub of thriving activity and more like a high street graveyard, where collapsed brands come to die.”
County Square manager Fran Burt defended the centre, saying footfall had bucked the national trend and there was interest in the empty units.
“People like that make me cross,” she said. “Yes, we’ve got some empty units in here but there’s a lot of activity going on in the background.
“There’s a possibility of six or seven units being taken at some stage but I couldn’t comment on what or who or when.
“It’s the climate at the moment but we’ve been holding our own and bucking the national and regional trend for our footfall.”
“We’re working so hard to raise Ashford up and there’s a lot of stuff going on in the background to improve the town as a whole.”
Mrs Burt added: “I would just like to add that since Peacocks has returned they are trading really well and it is also a sign that Clinton Cards and Internationale were trading well as they have not been closed.
“I would like to see more positivity and less negativity when it comes to people speaking about Ashford.”
Cllr Graham Galpin (Con), portfolio holder for town centre and urban economy, said he and the council were extremely disappointed the article painted a picture of Ashford as an example of a failing town due to business rates.
“There is clear concern from local traders about business rates, and their voices should be heard,” he said.
“Ashford Borough Council is well aware of these issues, which is why it has always worked hard with local traders – never more so than in the last two years – to bolster our town centre.”
Cllr Galpin said they were proud that vacancy rates fell by 1% between February and May and that new businesses had opened in the past month.
He was disappointed there had been no mention in the Observer of last month’s food festival or the new website and phone app being developed.
“We do not expect or want people to gloss over the hardships facing the UK’s town centres,” he said.
“But to ignore the steady work being done to support our traders and attract new businesses only exacerbates the problem.”
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County Square shopping centre was described as a graveyard in a national paper, but its manager has hit back, saying the shops are bucking the national trend