Published: 06:00, 14 June 2020
Shoppers will be able to return to the Ashford Designer Outlet from tomorrow - but not all stores at the huge complex are reopening.
The centre closed in March when lockdown was brought in - just months after a multi-million pound expansion was completed.
Bosses will reopen the site from tomorrow with adjusted opening hours of 10am to 6pm seven days a week.
Social distancing and hygiene measures have been put in place, as well as one-way systems at certain points.
The centre will initially operate with a reduced number of parking spaces to "help control the number of customers on-site at any one time".
But bosses say should there be a need to control visitor numbers, closure barriers "can and will be used to restrict access".
Many of the site's food and drink operators will reopen offering takeaway-only services, but any surrounding seating areas will remain closed.
Staff say they have worked with police and Ashford Borough Council to ensure the reopening of the site will have a "limited impact" on the road network.
Centre manager Peter Corr says he is eagerly awaiting the reopening.
"We have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure the centre is ready for reopening,” he said.
"The health and safety of our guests is paramount, so while the new measures we have put in place may mean that the centre looks and feels a little different, we are confident that visitors will still very much enjoy their trip.
"My team and I are looking forward to welcoming shoppers back on Monday.”
While the majority of stores will welcome customers again tomorrow, the following will NOT reopen:
Food and drink:
Elsewhere in Ashford, more shops will reopen in the town centre itself, including many in the County Square shopping centre.
A one-way system has been set up at the site, which bosses say will be clearly marked with floor vinyls, barriers, and designated turning points.
They say opening times may vary and store reopenings "may be subject to last minute change".
Centre director Stacey Ball said: "We are looking forward to seeing our loyal customers return to the centre from tomorrow.
"We have a new live counting system to monitor the number of people in the centre to ensure customers have sufficient space for social distancing, have enhanced our cleaning regimes particularly in key areas such as washrooms and lifts, and have ordered sanitising stations which will be installed in due course.
"Additionally, the County Square team will be on hand in the malls to assist customers with the new changes."
The stores which WILL reopen from tomorrow in County Square are:
Away from County Square, a number of changes have been introduced in the town centre, including hand sanitiser stations at the entrance to Park Mall and Elwick Place.
Ashford Borough Council says it has also increased the cleaning of public toilets and benches.
There will be one-way systems in place to ensure social distancing can be maintained in narrow areas, including the Park Mall shopping centre.
ABC says environmental health staff will be in the town centre in the first week of reopening to offer advice to any businesses which need support.
The authority's car parks in both Ashford and Tenterden will be open as normal and taking contactless payments through the new RingGo app, which replaced Parkmobile on Monday.
The council has received £116,814 of funding from the EU regional development fund to pay for the changes to the town centre.
Of that cash, ABC has allocated £40,000 to Tenterden, where the authority has asked for A-boards to be removed to maximise space on the pavements for shoppers.
As part of the town recovery plan in Tenterden, five parking bay areas will be suspended from tomorrow until further notice.
These are the layby in front of County Clothes/Ancient Boro; between Space NK and Kagu; between Wilson, Wilson and Hancock and Sayers Lane; from Webbs Ironmongery to HSBC; and from the Nail Bar to Sue Ryder.
The town council says it is to allow for the installation of safety barriers to widen the narrow footpaths to create a safe passage for pedestrians and ensure the safety of queuing shoppers.
Disabled parking bays will also be removed, however, blue badge holders can still park on double yellow lines where it is safe to do so.
Councillors have also worked on widening ‘pinch points’ and introducing a voluntary one-way system for shoppers.
"We would encourage residents to support the borough’s high streets"
Cllr Peter Feacey, ABC's portfolio holder for community safety and wellbeing, is encouraging people to support the borough's shops from tomorrow.
He said: “The reopening of our shops is an important one for businesses, but it is vital that people are safe while they are shopping.
"We ask that visitors are patient and follow the guidance on social distancing when out with people not in their households.
"We would encourage residents to support the borough’s high streets during this difficult time by shopping local wherever possible.”
ABC faced criticism earlier this week after its parking charges were increased by about 10% across the district.
The changes were brought in April while the country was under lockdown, meaning many residents are only just discovering the new charges.
More by this authorDan Wright
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