Published: 09:10, 03 September 2014
Plans for a massive expansion of the Ashford Designer Outlet - creating 950 new jobs - have been unveiled today.
Owners McArthurGlen have revealed they aim to double the workforce as they begin a public consultation into the shopping centre's future.
If planning permission is granted, a further 30 shops will be added to the 80 already there - plus restaurants, extra car parking space and more links to the town centre.
Bosses want to add an extra 100,000sqft of retail space to the current 185,000sqft.
In the first extension since the centre opened in 2000, a formal planning application is set to be submitted to Ashford Borough Council later this month.
The opening of phase two could come by late 2016 or early 2017, when it is expected to add a further 950 jobs to the outlet's current 1,000-strong workforce.
McArthurGlen managing director Sven Gaede said: "Ashford's expansion gives us the opportunity to revamp the whole shopping experience and to bring in exciting new brands to complement the existing offer.
"We are looking to create one of the UK's flagship designer outlets: a new fashion shopping experience for all our shoppers, whether from the local region, the affluent wider south east area, including London, or the tourist shopper - from Continental Europe as well as the long-haul traveller."
County tourism bosses are hoping the town's road and rail connections will also make the outlet a shopping destination for tourists.
Visit Kent chief executive Sandra Matthews-Marsh said: "Shopping tourism is playing an increasingly significant role in growing the visitor economy across the UK.
"With plans to expand, Ashford Designer Outlet is ideally placed to meet this rising demand, not just from the long-haul tourist, but also from tourists from Continental Europe and the day-out visitor.
"This is in particular given Ashford's excellent rail and road connections, and the tourist offer of the county of Kent, the Garden of England."
The original centre, which has the world's largest tented retail structure, was designed by architect Richard Rogers.
Outlet bosses are aiming to boost its green credentials as many of the walls of new stores will be "living" - clad in tens of thousands of plants.
Details of where and how the shopping mall will be expanded were revealed earlier this year when it was revealed the extension would come within 500 metres of Ashford's town centre.
The consultation will be held at the Stour Centre, in Tannery Lane, between 12pm-8pm.
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