Published: 08:00, 25 February 2022
| Updated: 16:53, 25 February 2022
Bike manufacturer Brompton has announced plans to move its global headquarters to Ashford and build a multi-million pound factory on wetlands near the Designer Outlet, creating thousands of jobs.
One of the UK’s largest cycle companies, Brompton has earmarked land along the Avenue Jacques Faucheux dual carriageway, close to Asda, for the new scheme.
Artist's impressions show there will be wide paths for cyclists and pedestrians to go straight into the facility, which will also have a visitor centre, museum and cafe.
The land is currently unused and is part of a 100-acre floodplain but Brompton says this is not an issue as the factory will provide an opportunity to restore the wetland and has been designed to work in harmony with the landscape and support biodiversity.
Ashford Borough Council has long held plans to transform 60 acres of the field into a rewilded public nature reserve with a community cycle path and a network of trails.
It hopes these plans - in partnership with developers Quinn Estates and architects Hollaway - will coincide with this.
Despite the vast development, it won't come with any parking spaces in a bid to encourage employees and visitors to access the site by cycling, walking, or using public transport.
Ashford was chosen because of its easy access to London and Paris, which Will Butler-Adams OBE, CEO at Brompton, says is important as cities are beginning to move away from cars and adopt walking and cycling strategies.
He added: “As we face climate change, combined with poor mental and physical health in our cities, where most of the world population live, we need to adapt.
"There has been a global realisation post-pandemic that we need to change how we live in our cities, to design them around the people that live in them, not the automobile.
"Brompton has a large part to play in supporting that transition, but we need to have more space to innovate and create the products of the future.
"London was the inspiration for the Brompton and our success is in large part due to our diverse and skilled staff who continue to nurture and develop our company.
"By choosing Ashford we can retain this strong connection to London and the UK, whilst being on the doorstep of Europe.
"We have a long journey ahead with the planning and development of the new site, but we’re thankful for the support of Ashford Borough Council, Hollaway Studios and Quinn Estates towards achieving our combined ambition to build this revolutionary and sustainable bicycle factory of the future.”
It hopes to open the factory by 2027 with the aim of producing more than 200,000 bikes per year, doubling its current rate.
At first, the company expects to employ more than 1,500 staff but once fully operational, this is expected to rise to 4,000.
It is claimed the proposals equate to a £100 million investment in the local economy and Brompton has also pledged to work with Kent universities, colleges and schools to develop a skilled workforce locally for generations to come.
Ashford council leader, Cllr Gerry Clarkson (Con), added: “This represents a once in a generation opportunity for the borough to develop a partnership with an internationally renowned cycling brand, that will bring jobs and opportunities to the town, whilst returning the town’s bicycle manufacturing heritage.
"The arrival of the new factory will enable Ashford to fulfil a long-held ambition to create a wetland park that will enhance the environment and encourage more people to explore the district in a sustainable, eco-focused manner.
"Ashford has set the pace in Kent for inward investment and this new factory will bring many positive benefits to the local area and will put Ashford on the map as a cycling hub.”
The first ever Brompton bike was made in 1975 by the inventor Andrew Ritchie.
They are now sold in 47 countries around the world and known for being able to fold up to a third of its size and being lightweight enough to take on public transport.
One of the first Brompton Bike Hire docks was installed at Ashford International Station in 2013 which will be expanded as part of the plans.
The company's current factory in Greenford, West London, will continue to operate until at least 2030.
The Ashford proposals are subject to planning approval, with an application expected to be submitted towards the end of April.
Ashford has a long history when it comes to cycling and many will remember when Norman Cycles has a factory in the town.
Charles and Fred Norman started their frame making, enamelling and metal plating business - Kent Plating and Enamelling Co - in a garden shed just off Jemmett Road at the end of the First World War.
In the 1920s they started producing cycles and eventually acquired a larger premises in Victoria Road.
In 1935 they had a new factory built in Beaver Road and the company was renamed Norman Cycles Limited.
They then expanded to produce a range of lightweight motorcycles and mopeds from 1938 but Fred and Charles retired and the Ashford factory closed in August 1961.
Gavin Cleary, CEO at Locate in Kent said: "Kent was the most compelling location for this global company following a national search, thanks to our outstanding connectivity to London and Europe, access to a skilled workforce and the flexibility of the desired manufacturing that will regenerate the local environment in a sustainable and community-focused way.
"This is a true partnership project, as Brompton will invest in Kent’s skills offer with a commitment to working closely with local colleges and universities to provide ongoing employment opportunities for multiple generations.
"Brompton and Ashford have shared values on personal mobility; the borough has the most provision for cyclists anywhere in Kent, and it shares a common goal with Brompton of encouraging more people out of their cars and on their bikes every day."
Leader of Kent County Council Roger Gough also supports the scheme, saying: “Brompton choosing Ashford is a huge boost for Kent.
“As well as a £100 million injection for the local economy, and 4,000 jobs, the unique architectural design and new 60-acre nature reserve will serve as a visitor attraction, improve the environment and act as a fantastic advert for the county’s strategic location – a trading gateway to Europe well connected to London that will attract further investment.
“A lot of people have worked hard to get plans this far including former KCC Leader Sir Paul Carter and ABC Leader Gerry Clarkson and, subject to planning approval, we look forward to working with everyone involved to help get this innovative project off the page to become an inspiring reality.”