Spotlight on: Ashford
PUBLISHED: 09:00 05 January 2016
Under 40 minutes from London via high-speed train and 3.5 hours from Paris via Eurostar, Ashford is a town on the move.
Ashford has been our gateway to Europe since the 1990s, with Eurostar shuttles running from Ashford International railway station, through the Channel Tunnel and on to destinations in France, Belgium and beyond.
But the town has become much more than simply a rail hub. Identified as a target area for development as early as the 1960s, Ashford continues to expand and just now there are several huge developments on the cards as it pushes ever forward.
House builders Hodson Developments, Malcolm Jarvis Homes, Pentland Homes and Ward Homes have applied for permission to build a new ‘garden suburb’ on 415 hectares of farm land immediately to the south west of Ashford, surrounding the hamlet of Chilmington Green.
The new neighborhood will provide around 3,350 homes by 2021, with the potential to increase up to 5,750 thereafter.
Offering far more than simply new homes, there will be a high street with a range of shops, a much-needed new secondary school, up to four new primary schools, business premises, and a community hub.
It hopes to bring employment for some 600 people by 2021, increasing to around 1,000 as the development grows.
With a focus on creating green spaces as well as new homes, developers have promised the existing hamlet of Chilmington Green will be sensitively incorporated within the new area, as will other heritage assets such as woodlands and water courses.
The exciting transformation of the former cattle market at Elwick Place, which represents £75m of investment into Ashford town centre, was due to be considered by the planning committee as Kent Life went to press.
Developer Stanhope has submitted the second of two eagerly anticipated planning applications to Ashford Borough Council, to include a new six-screen boutique cinema, a 60-bed family hotel, restaurants and cafés, homes, car parking and a space for events and community uses.
The development promises to transform the brownfield site in Ashford town centre, which has stood empty for many years, and create hundreds of new jobs.
At the same time, McArthurGlen has received planning approval for an expansion of its Ashford Designer Outlet to create one of the UK’s flagship fashion and homeware destinations. This second phase of construction, which it plans to open in 2018, will enable McArthurGlen to add 38 new luxury and premium brands to the existing 80 names - including Abercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger - already trading in the famous tented shopping centre.
An additional 500 jobs will be created to bring Ashford Designer Outlet’s total workforce to 1,500.
They also plan to install six new restaurants and cafés together with a new events space and children’s play area. A new car park will be built to provide 725 more parking spaces.
Ashford Borough Council is working with developers on the site earmarked for the first new office building in the new Ashford
Commercial Quarter. It will be a mixed-use development that will maximise the advantages of its location opposite Ashford International Station and stimulate major investment opportunities, create several hundred jobs and provide 590,000 square feet of office space and 150 homes.
Work is due to start on site in spring 2016 with an 18-month build timetable.
Opened in May last year, Conningbrook Lakes Country Park is a new country park created from a former gravel works.
With 34 hectares to explore, as well as a number of existing lakes in the old quarry, the new attraction provides a new green space for all to enjoy and offers a variety of leisure and watersports activities for both residents and visitors to this rapidly expanding town.
Plans for a new £16m college in Ashford have taken a giant step forward with news that full funding has been secured for the ambitious project. The new town-centre campus will be completed in 2017 and will focus on providing skills for the manufacturing, construction, technology and service sectors, linked with a strengthened role for employers.
Hadlow Group, which runs Hadlow College and West Kent College, has secured £9.8m from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Skills Capital Fund to help deliver Phase 1 of Ashford College, which will replace existing poor quality facilities.
Sally Newall, Simply Ice Cream
Why are you in the ice cream business?
I have run a catering business for the last 28 years and about 10 years ago started thinking about trying to get some time back, especially on weekends, to spend with my husband and four children.
The idea was to create a product that could be sold into retail that was produced and distributed throughout a normal working week. This was so naïve!
Having set it up I then realised that all the promotion and marketing that comes with building a business needs to be done through market stalls, events, trade shows, sampling in store, which of course predominantly takes place on the weekends.
Why has your product been so successful?
I think the variety of flavours provides a point of interest for people. For a retailer’s point of view they can cater to their demographic perfectly, as an older demographic favours the stem ginger and marmalade, the rum and raisin, the coffee etc and a younger demographic favours sorbets, salted caramel, on-trend flavours.
Retailers and consumers alike can try different flavours with a seasonal emphasis keeping things interesting. Quality is also never compromised.
Where do you source your ingredients?
As much as possible we try and source our ingredients from Kent which is full of wonderful fruit growers and artisan producers but some of it does have to come in from other counties. We have a fantastic support in Kent thanks to Produced in Kent - who have a massive membership now and really help promote all the amazing resources we have in the county.
Why have you teamed up with Ashford Farmers’ Market?
We first teamed up to celebrate the Market’s first birthday last year, creating two limited edition flavours made with ingredients from their stallholders.
I think it’s so important as a local business to support events and get out and meet your consumers. We attend a number of food fairs and events locally over the year - Tentertainment, Canterbury Food and Drink, the Kent County Show - and it’s great to get feedback from local customers.
Rachel Heather, who runs the Ashford Farmers’ Market, is passionate about local food and when she ran her shop she sold our ice cream so we’ve known each other a while. You can’t go wrong with giving away a treat and what better way to celebrate a birthday than with ice cream!
We love the fact that we can source locally as Kent is so full of amazing small producers and an abundance of amazing produce, so working with some of the market stall holders who share our ethos of providing natural food to the highest standards was fantastic.
Shopping and eating
Ashford attracts thousands of visitors each year to its impressive Ashford Designer Outlet centre.
Close to the station and the centre of town, the outlet centre has more than 80 leading brands at discount prices and is set to double in size in 2018.
In the town centre there is also County Square, a shopping centre with more than 50 big High Street names. For something a bit different, the independent Made In Ashford shop has recently opened in another of the town’s shopping centres, the freshly revitalised Park Mall.
A number of local independent start-up businesses have come together as a collective and will showcase their products within Made in Ashford on flexible tenancies, giving them a real opportunity to test their business and offering town-centre shoppers a unique and warm craft and gift buying experience.
For more locally produced goods, try Ashford’s thriving Farmers’ Market, held on the first Saturday of the month on Lower High Street.
Villages near Ashford
The most famous of Ashford’s surrounding villages, which also include Boughton Aluph (home to the superb Eastwell Manor), Charing and Hamstreet, has to be Pluckley.
Ghost hunting visitors flock to the village, which claims to be the most haunted in Britain, and to nearby Dering Woods, better known as Screaming Woods. However, some of the residents of Pluckley, which is also where The Darling Buds Of May was filmed, are keen to point out that it’s also a thriving, modern day village with no fewer than three world-class businesses.
Pluckley’s got (commercial) talent
The first is situated at the top of Forge Hill. Carl Padgham and Andrew Putland founded their silversmiths business, Padgham and Putland (01233 840450), in 1984 and have built up an impressive clientele. Perhaps their most prestigious commission came from Bvlgari, the Italian jewellers. To celebrate the millennium, they made 40 pieces of church plate for the Vatican and the pair presented the work, in person, to Pope John Paul II.
Tucked away in the countryside at the other end of Pluckley are two other top-class companies. XL Pools (01233 840336) is an award-winning small team of dedicated professionals who have built a reputation for outstanding swimming pool design and construction.
Meanwhile, Catchpole and Rye (01233 840840), which also has a showroom in London, has an international reputation as a manufacturer and supplier of high-quality luxury bathrooms. The showroom in Pluckley is well worth a visit.
Ashford and its surrounding villages are some of the most affordable areas in Kent. One-bedroom flats start at around £100,000, with two-bedroom houses between £150,000 and £280,000. A three-bed semi averages at around £290,000 and a detached five-bedroom home can cost around £500,000.
How to get there
Ashford is conveniently located just off the M20 at junction 9. With a major railway station, it has great connections to London (37 minutes), the coast and into Europe. Sat nav: TN23 1YD