The recession may be having an impact, but confidence in the town is remaining buoyant, according to Ashford council bosses.
And they point to two major businesses coming to the town as proof it is not all doom and gloom. Waitrose will create 140 jobs when it opens its first Ashford store later this year.
Nigel Keen, director of development for the town, said: “We welcomed the opportunity to invest in the development of an important part of Ashford. The store will be part of a new local centre for Repton Park, as well as serving the wider Ashford area, providing a strong retail anchor at the heart of the community.
“Waitrose places great value on becoming part of a towns fabric and we have worked hard with the developer to ensure this scheme is one that best meets the needs of Ashford and the surrounding area.”
Premier Inn, the country’s biggest hotel chain, has just opened a 74-bed hotel on the expanding Eureka Business Park.
Developer Quadrant Estates has also just gained planning approval for four new office buildings. Two other schemes on the park are nearing completion, with tenants already starting to fit out shop units.
Jo James, chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce said: “Ashford is extremely well placed to weather the recession and will probably maintain a healthy trading climate, despite problems arising.
“Ashford has so much going for it that I cannot believe things will grind to a halt. The area is in the middle of a massive expansion which was inspired by the quality of road and rail communications with the rest of the UK and with the Continent, and these are about to be boosted by the domestic high-speed rail link to London.
“While we should not be over-optimistic, and may suffer some slow-down in the future, I think we can be confident that the circumstances which have contributed to the town’s recent activity are bound to remain in place and continue to boost trading opportunities. Businesses in the Ashford area have already shown that they have the entrepreneurship and ability to take advantage of any opportunities offered.”
According to investment promotion agency Locate in Kent, more than a thousand jobs were created in Ashford in 2008 across a number of sectors. These included retail, construction and property, business services, leisure and tourism, engineering, financial services and ICT.
Private and public sector investment also continues to be ploughed into the region to provide new health centres and facilities to support Ashford’s rapidly growing population; while Southern Water is installing 4km of sewers as part of a waste improvement programme to support a major development of 4,000 homes.
Ashford is also bucking the national house-building slowdown after local planners approved construction of 1,600 new homes.
Judith Armitt, managing director of Ashford’s Future said: “While Ashford is not immune to the effects of the recession, we are managing to hold our own. We’ve just received extra government funding support and the town centre has been transformed by the new ‘shared space’ scheme.
“Continued investment in training, quality housing and commercial development, and improved transport links is vital if we are to encourage businesses to expand or move into the area. The economic upturn will come and when it does, Ashford will be ready to take full advantage.”
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