Published: 12:40, 27 September 2021
| Updated: 13:00, 27 September 2021
A council has said it will reopen a town centre car park that suddenly closed last week.
The two-storey building had previously been run by NCP, which suddenly shut it on Wednesday, less than 32 hours after warning signs were put up about the 'permanent' closure.
Frustrated shop owners had hit out at the sudden move, which reportedly came as part of a wider company re-structuring, however ABC-branded signs have now been put up correcting the closure status as 'temporary'.
The council will now take over day-to-day operations and says it will reopen the car park after carrying out "necessary repair works are carried out to address the problems experienced by some of our tenants in Park Mall".
It will see the prices reduced to be in line with the other council-run car parks, such as the Edinburgh Road facility next door, which has an hourly rate of £1.20 – 40p less than the rate at Park Mall under NCP.
No date has yet been provided for the car park's reopening.
Cllr Nathan Iliffe (Con), portfolio holder for regeneration and corporate property at Ashford Borough Council, said: “The council is pleased to be able to secure this important town centre site and popular car park.
“Under our operation, car parking charges at Park Mall will be reduced in line with charges at our other operated car parks.
"This will provide better value and expanded car-parking options for Ashford residents and visitors to our town centre, as well as maintaining, and hopefully, increasing footfall to businesses in Park Mall."
The council announced that it purchased the car park last year, a month after it was earmarked – along with the shopping centre – for redevelopment as part of a post-pandemic vision for the town centre.
The "reset" plan released in the wake of the pandemic highlighted an "investment corridor" stretching from the International station to Park Mall.
It included plans to "transform" Bank Street, and the continued redevelopment of Elwick Place.
In the document, town centre regeneration manager Hannah Clayton-Peck mentioned "suggested plans" that the Mall will "one day become a new residential community within the heart of the town".
"In this instance, independent businesses will be offered opportunities to move to the Bank Street area," she said.
"The residential offer will house a variety of different people and become key footfall generators in their own right which will, in turn, will support the transformed Bank Street area and beyond.
"At Park Mall, the provision of a new multi-storey car park or utilising the existing one will be explored as a means of providing more footfall generation and to help anchor and deliver the aspirations surrounding the Bank Street area."
Council leader Cllr Gerry Clarkson had previously said that the car park would "give us return in the interim, but will be very necessary for us in the longer term in terms of the town centre redevelopment".