Published: 06:00, 24 May 2019
A 16-storey tower block will become the "Shard of Ashford" according to bosses behind a huge new development.
The ambitious scheme on the former HomePlus site in Beaver Road near the town centre - exclusively revealed by KentOnline last week - includes more than 200 flats, 12 town houses, a hidden car park and retail space.
David Weir, director of On Architecture, which drew up the scheme, says the company wants to "go big" with the development, building a tower similar to The Shard in London, which is 95 storeys tall.
A first-class "destination" restaurant and bar will sit at the top of the tower, on the 15th and 16th floors, offering impressive views of Ashford and a fine dining experience, bosses say.
Developers hope to bring in an operator offering a similar experience to that of Rocksalt in Folkestone, the award-winning restaurant at the harbour run by celebrity chef Mark Sargeant.
There are also plans for an outside viewing gallery above the restaurant, offering 360 degree views of the town.
A Better Choice for Property - the property investment company owned by Ashford Borough Council - is behind the project after buying the land from the Southern Housing Group earlier this year.
The 95-storey skyscraper - which is Europe's tallest building - towers over London Bridge railway station and chiefs hope to erect something similar in Ashford.
"It will give people a sense of arrival, they will see the tower and it will be a focal point - a beacon for Ashford," Mr Weir said.
"It's not quite The Shard, but Ashford's version of it."
Although no formal planning application has been submitted, detailed plans for the site were unveiled at a public consultation at the Stour Centre last week.
It revealed how vehicles will access the plot from Beaver Road, while twelve three-bed, four-storey town houses with their own car port will sit to the south of the site, overlooking the River Stour.
A landscaped 'urban square', known as the quad, will sit in the middle of the scheme, including outside seating.
A two-storey car park will lie underneath it, providing space for bin stores and bike racks.
"It's not quite The Shard, but Ashford's version of it..." - David Weir, On Architecture
All the homes will be private - whether privately owned or rented - and no social housing will be included in the scheme.
Keith Hollidge, commercial development manager at A Better Choice for Property, says bosses aim to build a "landmark development" for Ashford.
If built, it will be surrounded by developments, with Chapel Down’s brewery having opened earlier this month and a Hampton by Hilton hotel set to go next to the BP petrol station on the other side of Beaver Road.
The hotel will sit alongside 216 apartments which are already being built around the petrol station.
Bosses have dubbed the area "Victoria Point".
Mr Hollidge said: "We think it [the HomePlus site] is an important one in the context of what is around it.
"We need something striking to do it justice.
"We started with a development of six storeys high across the site and it has grown from there.
"We're looking to make the residential space as flexible as possible - we would like the possibility to do all rented flats, or all sold, or a mixture. It depends on the market."
Chiefs say the homes will cater for a diverse demographic with families, singles and couples being able to set up home.
HomePlus Furniture - which will be demolished to make way for the scheme - is owned by businessman Martin Rose, who says there is no set date for when the store will close but confirmed he is “looking at a number of sites in Ashford” to move to.
He says the business is currently continuing to trade as normal from the ex-B&Q site.
A formal planning application for the bold scheme is expected to be submitted in late June or early July, with developers hoping for a decision by Christmas.
THE SCHEME IN NUMBERS
RESTAURANT AND BAR
Bosses say they are talking to potential operators about taking on the top-floor restaurant.
Diners will enter the tower block from ground level before taking an express lift straight to the top of the building, which is expected to have glass walls in some areas to offer clear views of the town.
The kitchens, toilets and a bar area will be on the 15th floor and the main restaurant will be upstairs on the 16th floor.
Seating for at least 100 people is expected to fill the space.
An outside viewing gallery will sit above the restaurant, offering panoramic views of Ashford.
As well as food, guests will be able to visit for cocktails.
"We don't have anyone lined up yet for the restaurant, but we are talking to people," Mr Weir said.
"We are hoping to have a designated lift to the restaurant, bringing some London glamour to the place.
"The kitchen, facilities and a meet and greet area will be on the 15th floor, and then the tables on the 16th with diners being able to enjoy the views.
"We're toying with the idea of going up again for a rooftop bar, but it could be a viewing gallery.
"Even if you're not coming to the restaurant people could come for a cocktail, Rocksalt-esque.
Mr Hollidge said chiefs are "beginning to speak to operators".
"We're not looking at celebrity chefs but want a first-class restaurant run by someone who knows how to run a restaurant," he said.
"It would complement the Curious Brewery offering."
A cafe with outside seating is also planned to go on the ground level of the tower.
As well as the restaurant and cafe, bosses say 1,250 sq m of commercial space at street level facing Beaver Road will create an “active frontage” along the site’s western boundary.
Although it is not yet known what will go into the units, ideas include a gym, office space, or a bar.
KentOnline spoke to residents at the consultation to get their thoughts on the development.
Eighty people attended the exhibition with 20 filling out feedback forms.
Roy Atkinson, from Aldington, said: "The space that is there at the moment is an eyesore so anything is an improvement.
"But with more and more houses being built I think Ashford Borough Council has lost the plot.
"All these extra people, what are we going to do with them? Where are the leisure facilities?
"We need a theatre, we need a cultural space, something for the younger generation.
"We have the Stour Centre but with a growing population we should be thinking about other facilities."
Mick Moore, of Beaver Road, Ashford, said: "We've got to start modernising the town, and if it brings people in it's all the better."
One resident - who did not give their name - said: "It doesn't seem to be for anyone who already lives in Ashford.
"And it's for single people and couples, not for families.
"And what will it do to the road system? It's already busy there."
Another visitor to the consultation said: "It think it will revitalise the area.
"It looks really good and will hopefully bring people in from London - a bigger mix of people - although they might be disappointed with the town.
"The only problem would be whether Ashford's infrastructure would cope, the hospital and the schools."