We’re alive and kick­ing – don’t call us a grave­yard

Be re­al­is­tic

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - ‘ashford’s Not Dying’ - By James Scott

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.”

js­cott@thek­m­group.co.uk 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.”

What do you think? Write to Ken­tish Ex­press, 34-36 North Street, Ash­ford, TN24 8JR or email ken­tish­ex­press@thek­m­group.co.uk

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

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