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Ashford retail crisis claims dismissed by business leaders as Timpson leaves town centre spot

By Georgia Woolf

Claims that Ashford town centre is in the midst of a retail crisis have been rejected by business leaders.

A host of former independent shops are sitting bare and some prominent spots previously occupied by big-name chains are empty.

Later this month, Timpson in King's Parade will close, with bosses saying a lack of footfall in the town centre is behind the decision.

Timpson in King's Parade will close this month
Timpson in King's Parade will close this month

But retail chiefs say the latest statistics from July show 9.5% of the town’s units are vacant - a figure which is below the national average.

Last week, Ashford was recognised by the shortlisting panel on the Great British High Street Awards 2018.

But Jeppe Loger, who manages the Evapo store in County Square, thinks the town is lacking variety.

Oxfam has closed
Oxfam has closed

"The online market has a big impact as you can get everything cheaper online," he said.

"In County Square some shops are mega expensive, and in the world we live in people don't have the money to spend in the shops we have.

"There are a lot of the same shops and everything is too similar - we are part of that but we try to do things differently."

Ernest Jones moved out of the town earlier this year
Ernest Jones moved out of the town earlier this year

Timpson spokeswoman Jackie Taylor said the shoe repairer is leaving its King's Parade site this month, but could not confirm when.

She said: "The store is set to close as we have four shops around Ashford, one of which is only a few minutes’ walk away from the King’s Parade branch.

"The rates for the closing branch have actually gone down, but the issue really is footfall in the town centre."

When Timpson abandons its King's Parade spot, it will sit alongside the empty Ernest Jones jewellery store.

In New Rents, Argo closed its prominent branch earlier this year, as did RBS.

Last month, Oxfam in the high street closed after 34 years of trading in the town.

'We have seen some retailers leave, but such is the nature of high streets everywhere...' - Cllr Graham Galpin

The charity had spent 25 years in County Square before moving to its high street spot opposite Marks & Spencer.

Manager Francesca Munari said: "I opened the shop in the high street nine years ago and it has been a wonderful nine years.

"I want to make it clear that we have loved being in Ashford and we hope to come back when the circumstances are better.

"It's down to the cost of the shop versus the takings.

"It hasn't been profitable for the last couple of years - it doesn't take much for a business to blossom or close."

Portfolio holder for the town centre, Cllr Graham Galpin, says all town centres are facing challenging times.

"We are not alone, but as part of our changing offer, we are seeing new faces and continued investment in the town", said Cllr Galpin.

“Of course, we have seen some retailers leave as well, but such is the nature of high streets everywhere, and we will all continue to see shops come and go.

“Nationally we are seeing the impact of online shopping on our high streets and to make out town centre an appropriate community place for shopping and much more we need to offer something beyond just a shopping experience.

“There is a long way to go but we know we are doing something right here in Ashford, as the high street’s minister Jake Berry has highlighted our approach as one to follow and many other local authorities are looking at what we are doing and are looking to replicate it in their towns.”

Kids Stuff toy shop recently closed
Kids Stuff toy shop recently closed

In County Square, the Kids Stuff toy shop closed last month, but bosses say the shopping centre is doing well.

Centre manager Frances Burt said: “Our footfall is buoyant, over the last nine months we have had only four weeks where the footfall was down compared to last year.

"We are 3.7% up on last year having seen 4,194,192 million visitors through the centre so we are well on the way to hit the over five million figure.”

ABC added that high street footfall for the year to date is up 0.5% compared to 2017.

There were 67,653 visitor entrances and exits recorded in the High Street in the week before last, while Park Mall footfall was up 4.1% year-on-year.

Café Madeleine, Taproom, B&M, Poppins Café Restaurant and Wed2B have opened in the town centre this year.

Metro Bank is also due to open in the winter.

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