Ashford, Kent, England, Great Britain

🇬🇧 Ashford is a town in the county of Kent, England. It lies on the River Great Stour at the southern or scarp edge of the North Downs. It has been a market town since the Middle Ages, and a regular market continues to be held. The Borough of Ashford includes the Rural Districts of East Ashford, West Ashford and Tenterden.

The arrival of the railways from the mid 19th century onwards, created a significant source of employment contributing to the town's growth as a rail hub at the centre of five distinct railway lines. The high speed rail line (HS1 High Speed 1) between London and the Channel Tunnel passes through Ashford's International Railway Station thus linking the town to Paris and other European destinations. The M20 motorway connects Ashford to the Channel Tunnel, the national motorway network (via the M25 Motorway) and to London (via the A20).

Ashford has been marked out for growth in several Government plans from the 1960s onwards. In the 1970s, the construction of a controversial four lane ring road together with the multi-storey Charter House building led to the destruction of significant parts of the old town although some areas were spared and preserved. Other changes in the last 40 years include the construction of the County Square shopping centre, the redevelopment of the Templer Barracks at Repton Park, the Finberry estate to the south-east, and the award-winning Ashford Designer Outlet.

Economy The soup manufacturer Batchelors became a significant employer in Ashford when they opened a £2.5m factory in Willesborough, east of the town centre, in 1957. A substantial proportion of Batchelors staff moved from their main production unit in Sheffield to Ashford. The factory is now owned by Premier Foods. Proprietary Perfumes Ltd (PPL), a division of Unilever opened a fragrance and flavour factory and research laboratory next door to the Batchelors factory in 1962. It was subsequently renamed as Quest International and purchased by Givaudan in 2007.

The wholesale frozen food firm Brake Brothers was established in 1957. Initially based at nearby Lenham, it later moved to Ashford and expanded. The current European headquarters are in Eureka Park to the north of the town.

In 2017, the Kent-based Curious Brewing constructed a factory on a brownfield site adjacent to Ashford International station in 2017 after a £1.7m crowdfunded cash investment. It opened in May 2019. The train operating company Southeastern partnered with Curious, and advertise the brewery around Ashford International station.

In 2004 Regional Planning Guidance set out plans to invest £2.5m in Ashford, including a targets of 31,000 new homes and 28,000 new jobs in the area. In 2005 a Channel 4 poll ranked Ashford the fourth-best place to live in the United Kingdom. However, the formation of the coalition government in 2010 saw regional planning targets scrapped, along with growth area status. Ashford has continued to develop, with new homes planned for urban areas such as Repton Park, Park Farm, Singleton and Chilmington, and planning permission granted for a new £25m college campus. The extension of Victoria Road has created new development space in Ashford, though plans to build a Morrisons supermarket here were scrapped in May 2014.

Ashford Designer Outlet was designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership and attracts around 3 million customers a year In 2012, Ashford Borough Council predicted there would be a net gain of 620 jobs per year. The increase in the town's commercial importance, as well as its strategic location, is witnessed by the number of industry, business and retail parks in the town. These include Waterbrook Park, where there is dedicated space for HGV parking, Eureka Science and Business Park, including manufacturing sites and office complexes; and Orbital Park, the market's current location, which has a regular boot fair. Three modern shopping centres are located in the town. Park Mall opened in 1985 on the former Folkestone Glass Works site and is now managed by Ashford Borough Council, as part of its strategy to regenerate the town centre. The town's main shopping centre is County Square, which was built over Hempsted Street and connecting roads, opening in 1973 as the Tufton Centre. In 1989, the centre was renamed to County Square and refurbished by CIN Properties, who added a glass roof. In 2008, the centre was expanded to include 50,000 sq ft of new retail space including a Debenhams store. Outside the town centre is the Ashford Designer Outlet designed by Richard Rogers, which attracts around 3 million customers a year. The centre has won industry awards for Retail Destination of the Year and Best Shopping Venue and has been praised by the British Parking Association for its range of facilities, cleanliness and lack of crime. From 2018 the centre underwent a 100,000 sq. ft expansion, including 40 new stores and a new food piazza. Part of this expansion was the installation of Europe's largest living wall, comprising more than 120,000 plants. The expansion was formally opened in November 2019. A Waitrose store opened in November 2009 on the former Templar Barracks site, followed by a John Lewis store in November 2013.

In 2014, Ashford Borough Council launched AshfordFor, an inward investment campaign, which has helped support the town's growth. Developers agreeing to invest in the town include Quinn Estates, GRE Assets, U+I and Stanhope. In 2014, Ashford Borough Council launched loveashford.com, a website designed to promote new businesses in the town centre as part of the Portas Pilot scheme, which encourages regeneration of town high streets in decline. Brandon Lewis, High Streets Minister said he would "encourage all businesses in Ashford to sign up and be part of this excellent opportunity to boost their trade in the town centre."

Ashford Station, Kent 
Ashford Station, Kent
Image: David Anstiss

Ashford has a population of over 127,500 people.

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