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A huge 100,000 sq ft extension is being constructed at the Ashford Designer Outlet

By Kristina Curtis

Building work to almost double the size of the Ashford Designer Outlet has begun.

Owners McArthurGlen first announced plans to expand the centre in 2014, and secured planning approval from Ashford Borough Council in September 2015. This will be the Outlet’s first extension since it opened in 2000.

McLaren Construction has been appointed to undertake the much-anticipated 100,000 sq ft extension to the centre, which will go through the original food court and across the overflow car park.

The expansion plans at Ashford Designer Outlet

Centre manager Peter Corr said: “After four years of planning we’re incredibly excited to confirm that building works on the new extension will commence.

“Over the next 18 months we will be investing £90 million into the centre to elevate the whole shopping experience for our guests, while also working hard to ensure our visitor experience remains memorable and enjoyable during this time.

“Once the extension is complete Ashford Designer Outlet will become one of the UK’s flagship fashion, food and homeware destinations, with over 130 stores, restaurants and cafes.”

An artist's impression how an expanded Ashford Designer Outlet will look

With plans to open in Autumn 2019, the extension will house an additional 50 premium and luxury brands – some of which have already been signed up to join the centre – a new food piazza, 725 further parking spaces as well as a new events space and redesigned children’s play area.

The expansion will also include the installation of Europe’s largest living wall structure and many of the stores in the new phase will be clad in tens of thousands of plants, all stacked vertically.

In preparation for the expansion work, the food court in the Outlet has now closed for good with McDonald’s being the final occupant to leave last weekend.

The Outlet's former food court is now closed as work begins on the extension

The chain's move out of the food court, which will be demolished, means that McDonald’s will now be getting its own stand-alone restaurant which will have more than 200 seats for its customers and will be heated, unlike the current food court which was often referred to as a ‘wind tunnel’ due to the lack of a solid roof.

McDonald’s was the last chain to move out of the food court, with Spudulike, Subway and Lost Sheep Coffee all moving into their own units elsewhere in the shopping centre.

Mr Corr added: “While it’s too early to reveal any names, we are committed to expanding the extensive range of brands already on offer.

“In the past three years alone we’ve introduced highly sought-after brands including Calvin Klein, All Saints, Diesel, Cath Kidston, Osprey London, Jack Wills, Timberland and Abercrombie & Fitch.”

How the Outlet expansion news was first revealed

As well as creating an additional 500 jobs, the expansion will also include a complimentary shuttle bus linking the Designer Outlet to the town centre and Ashford International railway station at peak weekends and during the school holidays.

McArthurGlen is also providing funds for the enhancement of pedestrian and cycle routes from the station.

The expansion of Ashford Designer Outlet is one of eight major projects highlighted by Ashford Borough Council (ABC) and Kent County Council as key employment and economic drivers in the development of the area.

Cllr Gerry Clarkson, ABC leader, said: “We are pleased to hear McArthurGlen announce its building contractor and confirm that building works will commence shortly.

The familiar roof of the Ashford Designer Outlet

“The expansion of the Designer Outlet will transform it into one of the UK’s premier outlet centres, enhancing the shopping experience and providing a complementary offer to our town centre. This news illustrates the confidence that major investors have in Ashford and the borough’s future.

“It is clear that we are gaining a growing reputation as a town attracting inward investment and high-calibre, quality brands.”

The Ashford Designer Outlet, which is the world’s largest tented retail structure, was designed by architect Lord Richard Rogers, who designed the Lloyd’s building and the Millennium Dome in London.

The Outlet under construction Picture courtesy: Steve Salter

The engineering firm behind the project was Buro Happold, which specialises in tensile structures and was also responsible for the Sydney Opera House.

The company also worked with Mr Rogers on both the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Millennium Dome.

Construction of the centre started in 1996 and it was opened in March 2000.
The Designer Outlet has been attracting more than 2.8 million visitors each year since 2009.

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