Published: 09:30, 24 September 2015
The proposal to almost double the size of the Ashford Designer Outlet has been given the go ahead.
Councillors unanimously agreed to permit the planning application that will see the shopping mall expand by 100,000 sq ft at last night's planning committee.
However, this does not mean that improving Ashford's town centre isn't the council's top priority.
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A condition of the application will see more than 40 restaurants banned from moving into the revamped Outlet once it is complete.
Furthermore, an approved list of permitted brands which can set up shop in the centre if they chose has also been handed to owners McArthurGlen.
Banned restaurants include Wetherspoons, Prezzo, Cafe Rouge, TGI Fridays, Zizzi and Nandos.
Approved shops include Gucci, Dior, Barbour, Coast, Hollister, White Stuff and Cath Kidston.
A full list of both is here.
The aim of these lists is to make sure that much needed footfall is not taken away from the town centre, the County Sqaure shopping centre and the proposed multi-million pound development planned for Elwick Place, which is one of the council's big eight projects.
The planning application states: "It is logical and desirable for a remodelled and expanded Designer Outlet Centre (DOC) to be the subject of a single set of updated planning controls that seek to ensure that the operation of the DOC does not give rise to significant adverse impact."
The lists are subject to change and will be reviewed on a time base or linked to other events such as occupancy of new floorspace in planned town centre investment.
Another strict condition drawn up by the council states that at least 85% of the shops have to provide discounts of up to 35% off, while the other 15% of shops need to allow discount of 25% off.
Cllr Gerry Clarkson, leader of Ashford Borough Council, said: “We are pleased to approve plans for the Designer Outlet expansion, which will transform it into one of the UK’s premier outlet centres.
“The council welcomes the fact that another major investor in Ashford is showing so much confidence in the town’s future.
“At the same time we are working hard to make sure that our town centre prospers."
This is the first expansion since the centre, designed by Sir Richard Rogers, opened in 2000 - which is referred to as phase 1.
The construction of phase 2 is expected to start next year and will add 38 new shops.
An additional 500 jobs will be created, bringing the Ashford Designer Outlet’s total workforce to 1,500.
A further six new restaurants and cafes will be added, as well as a new children’s play area and car park providing an extra 725 spaces.
In order to realise the new extension, 170 construction staff will also be employed, with the new expanded Outlet set to open in 2018.
McArthurGlen has also committed to the council that it will fund a shuttle bus linking the outlet, the town centre and the international train station at weekends and during the school holidays.
Gary Bond, McArthurGlen’s managing director of development, said: “With many major brands wanting to open at Ashford Designer Outlet, we are delighted to have obtained the support of Ashford Borough Council to deliver an even more compelling shopping experience to our customers in the Kent and London areas and the substantial number of tourists who visit.
“We are hugely excited about the opportunities that this will bring to the town and to the wider county.
"We are now focused on the final stages required to enable building works to start next year.”
As part of the plans, part of the existing mall, where the coach drop-off point and food court are, will be demolished to make room for the extra retail units, restaurants and a visitor centre.
The centre will also feature living walls, designed to connect the mall with Kent's status as the 'Garden of England'.
The report adds: "The new buildings will vary significantly in terms of appearance from the existing development.
"In keeping with the concept of Ashford being located in the Garden of England, the applicant cites the making of a bold decision to provide a continuous facade of living 'green walls; across the entire length of the proposed extension and its junction with the existing DOC."
The scheme will also see improvements to the surrounding public realm, in particular improving the dark and dingy underpass off Newtown Road, with the report making reference to a "community led art and designer graffiti" project.
There are also plans for a third phase to expand the Outlet into the overflow car park in Newtown Road, as well as on a small piece of land next to the car park.
It is not known when an application for this part of the development will be submitted.
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