While the UK retail picture looks bleak, the latest footfall and vacancy rate figures for the town centre show Ashford is bucking the national trend and traders are positive about the New Year ahead.
Footfall for 2018 year to date up 5.8% on the previous year
· December 2018 footfall up 27% compared to December 2017
· Impressive festive footfall figures show 80,500 visitors the week before Christmas
· Footfall up an impressive 52% Christmas week
· 2018 trend shows vacancy rate reducing as national benchmark sees increase
· County Square’s annual footfall figures show a 3.1% increase compared to 2017
· Almost 6.2 million people visited the shopping centre last year
· Made in Ashford in Park Mall trading figures for 2018 up 30% on December 2017
· The independent retailers’ 2018 trading figures up 17% on 2017 figures
Graham Galpin portfolio holder for the town centre, is pleased to see Ashford high street is more than holding its own in challenging times.
“All town centres are facing challenging times, and we are not alone, but as part of our changing offer, we are seeing new faces and continued investment in the town, and now we have further good news which shows footfall is on the up and our vacancy rates bucking the national trend.
“The positive investment in the town is having a knock on effect, with the Ashford College bringing in students into the town, the Commercial Quarter bringing in office workers plus we have the Elwick Place cinema and new Brewery adding to our leisure and night time offer.
“Nationally we are seeing the impact of online shopping on our high streets. To make our town centre an appropriate community place for shopping and much more we need to offer something beyond just a shopping experience.
“There is a long way to go but we know we are doing something right here in Ashford, as the high street’s minister Jake Berry has highlighted our approach as one to follow and many other local authorities are looking at what we are doing and are looking to replicate it in their towns.”
Melissa Dawkins, Curator & Manager of Made in Ashford in Park Mall, has noticed the impact with positive trading figures:
“Made in Ashford saw our best Christmas ever, with trading up 30% on December last year. We finished our year up 17% on our previous year which we are very pleased with.
The shop has grown from strength to strength, with us peaking at 50 different creative, local businesses trading from our store at one time this year.
“The footfall in the town has increased dramatically and there is a real positive feeling after many of this years’ events, such as Splashes of Summer and the Snowdog art trail which has been a direct driver to our successes.
“The local community continue to be very positive about independent retail on our High Street and are keen to support us which is another major factor in it being a fantastic year for us. We have started 2019 by doing a refit (by ourselves) to make our shop even better and we are very confident and excited about our future in our town.”
County Square has also announced positive figures, with their annual footfall figures for the whole of 2018 seeing an increase of 3.1% compared to 2017. This meant that almost 6.2 million people visited the centre last year.
The last week of December’s figures were up by 9.7% year on year and the first week of January 2019 showed an 8.5% increase on January 2018.
Frances Burt, Centre Manager said ‘We’re delighted that County Square has been bucking the trend on visitor numbers, with most shopping centres being well down on footfall.
“Not only does this apply to us but by working alongside other Ashford retailing groups such as the Town Centre Business forum as well as Ashford Borough Council’s Town Centre Regeneration team, we all work hard to try and improve the shopping experience for our local community and of people visiting Ashford to shop or just meet up with family and friends”.
The Government’s investigation into the decline of the high street resulted in the formation of a Town Centres Expert Panel. The panel spent six months examining the many challenges facing the high street to present a plan of action which has now been published.
The report calls for a community-focused approach to tackling the challenges facing high streets and town centres and puts community involvement and local leadership at the centre of a plan to create the town centres of the future.
“A lot of the recommendations in the report reflect what is already happening in Ashford. We are delighted to be leading from the front. Place changing is recognised as important as place making, and that there is going to be a fund to pay for significant infrastructure, as well as recognition that there needs to be a town centre champion. It’s a vital part of the report that you need strong leadership to take the plan forward,” Graham said.
“Town centres will need to be reinvented for life in the 21st century and if we don’t repurpose and change the offer then we won’t have a high street to worry about. I have always said I want Ashford town centre to be a fun place to visit.
“An important part of what we offer is that fun element, otherwise we just end up with a town that is very lacklustre, and we have all seen a number of these up and down the country. Every town needs to keep working hard to improve,” he added.