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Owner of Tailor Made Mobility in Ashford says new benches outside store in Middle Row make it difficult for customers to park

A disgruntled trader says colourful benches installed in a Kent high street have caused a parking nightmare for his customers.

Darren Hume, the owner of Tailor Made Mobility in Ashford, predicts his morning trade will fall by more than 30% because of the eye-catching seats outside his shop.

Darren Hume, owner of Tailor Made Mobility
Darren Hume, owner of Tailor Made Mobility

Ashford Borough Council (ABC) has installed the chairs - as well as tables and bunting - across six parking bays in Middle Row as part of a short-term regeneration project.

The scheme aims to encourage active and healthy lifestyles by introducing attractive places to meet, and enhancing public spaces.

The pink and blue furniture first appeared on Wednesday, while more is set to be installed in Bank Street next week, and remain in place until October 31.

Mr Hume, who opened the shop a year ago, says while he appreciates the idea and the look of the installation, he wishes he was consulted first.

"My customers use the parking outside to come in before 10am, and they have a three-hour window once they’re here," he said.

"There will be a 30% to 35% footfall reduction because a lot of customers park outside to show me products that need servicing.

"I'm just a little bit disappointed the council hasn't told us they want to do this, and being a rate payer and a shop owner, nobody was told this was going to happen.

"The seats are really nice but they should have thought about it and left two spaces, because they are used regularly.

"It will have an effect on people who come in early and can't walk very far.

"We are constantly fighting for a presence to make Ashford town centre look nicer, so I can't knock what they’re doing.

The new seats cover six bays
The new seats cover six bays
How Middle Row looked before. Picture: ABC
How Middle Row looked before. Picture: ABC

"I can't say it's rubbish and will kill my business, because it won’t, but it has affected people coming in in the mornings.

"They will work a way around, but the disappointing fact is nobody even mentioned it was going to happen."

Also in Middle Row, Ram Gurung, the co-owner of mobile shop I Fix 4 You, feels the bright benches are a nice addition, but hopes they will be used respectfully.

He added: "If people are going to sit there and relax it will be nice, but it could cause issues at the same time, with drunk people making noise."

Alan, director of Kings Barber next door, said: "It makes the high street look good with the flowers and seating area for people.

"Somehow it would make more people come to the town and see more in the high street.

Similar benches will be installed in Bank Street next week
Similar benches will be installed in Bank Street next week

"We need to do more and better things to build Ashford high street to more than what it is now."

A spokesperson for ABC says while six spaces have been covered outside Mr Hume's shop, no disabled bays have been suspended in Middle Row or Bank Street, and signs and notices were placed last week.

If the scheme is successful, it could lead to more permanent features in the future.

Cllr Nathan Iliffe, portfolio holder for regeneration and corporate property, said: “Ashford Borough Council is looking at ways to entice visitors into the town centre, and give them more reasons to visit, spend time with friends and enjoy.

“We have held a number of popular family friendly events, which have drawn crowds in, and now we’re looking to add a bit of colour to parts of the high street too.

They will be there until October
They will be there until October

“Already we have received positive comments from passers-by when some of the new seating and planting was being installed and we know nearby businesses are hoping this might help to give their trade a little boost too.

“This temporary pilot scheme delivers some interventions that links to key themes from the Town Centre Reset - integrated play, feature lighting, temporary public realm and outdoor seating."

Interactive signage will also be introduced nearby so visitors to the town can find out more about the scheme by scanning QR codes.

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