It is quite right that we must protect our borough from serious over development and our towns from decline. Our town centres as we know them are changing and we must help that transition, but it is not easy.
Out-of-town superstores and the internet offer convenience for many, and while we do provide as much reduction to business rates as the law allows, we do not set them or the rents being charged to local businesses.
With change comes opportunity, and I am absolutely determined to ensure that both our urban town of Ashford and our delightful rural town of Tenterden grasp this and continue to evolve into vibrant places that people want to visit. This change will not happen overnight but I am pleased to see the positive reaction to some of the initiatives we have introduced.
The Town Centre Action Team continues to do a very good job tidying and brightening up the high street, while the farmers’ market is proving popular – boosting footfall and supporting local traders.
We also increased the planting of summer flowers to brighten up the town centre and will be discussing with Kent County Council how we might greatly improve other open spaces, verges and roundabouts across the borough.
Ashford is leading the way in delivering much needed affordable housing, and we were pleased to be able to convince the housing minister Brandon Lewis to give us the green light that allows Ashford to provide further new affordable homes.
The new homes will be of significant benefit to communities in Ashford, and this comes on top of the 390 homes already completed in the borough, through the government’s Affordable Homes Programme.
While we recognise the need for more housing, we are opposed to allowing development with no checks or balances that could mean an adverse effect on the communities we are seeking to serve.
We are therefore in dialogue with the government and hope to convince them of the value of quality and space standards that can protect future generations and reinforce social cohesion.
From May 1, 2015, passengers will be able to travel by Eurostar direct from Ashford to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille up to five times a week. This means Ashford will boast direct services to France’s three largest cities – Paris, Marseille and Lyon – as well as Lille.
Expansion of services will provide greater opportunities for leisure and business travellers, boost local tourism and leisure industries, and make Ashford even more attractive as a business location for companies trading with France and Europe.
Hopefully, this will boost our town centre’s fortunes, too.