Published: 07:49, 17 September 2018
| Updated: 08:15, 17 September 2018
A new multimillion-pound leisure complex will open in December - but without any of its planned restaurants.
Developers are entering the final months of construction at the long-awaited Elwick Place scheme, which was due to feature eight restaurants and cafes.
But bosses at Stanhope PLC say the industry is experiencing a "challenging period" and are struggling to fill the space set aside for eateries, meaning visitors will be greeted with empty units when the site opens.
The development, which is being built on the former cattle market opposite County Square, will feature a six-screen Picturehouse cinema and 58-room Travelodge hotel.
Stanhope development director Gary Bourne said: "We are in discussions with a number of restaurant operators – many of whom are exciting independent businesses - about the opportunity to trade alongside these big brands.
"It is no secret that the national market for the restaurant industry is experiencing a challenging period but there is continued interest from certain dining brands and, with its relatively limited range of eateries at present, Ashford presents a great opportunity for them.
"Although we are not able to announce names yet, we look forward to sharing this news and seeing the restaurant units open in 2019."
One of Ashford Borough Council's Big 8 projects aimed at improving the town, work on the Elwick Road site began in July last year.
Contractors have been working through an 86-week construction programme and the hotel and cinema are expected to open just before Christmas on Friday, December 21.
In the minutes of a meeting of the council's economic and regeneration board from July, it said the restaurant market was "very tight".
It said: "Members were reassured that arrangements would be in place to fill all units, even if only on a temporary basis, by the time the development opened before Christmas 2018."
But Stanhope chiefs are now saying the restaurants will not arrive until 2019.
A council spokesman said: "We have been working very closely with Stanhope PLC during the construction of the exciting scheme at Elwick Place.
"The developer has kept us informed of progress every step of the way and we are delighted to hear that both the cinema and hotel are expected to be open before Christmas.
"We know that, as part of the planned phased opening of this town centre scheme, Stanhope is involved in discussions with a number of potential tenants interested in taking space at Elwick Place.
"This is a commercially sensitive process and we would not expect them to divulge any details until these negotiations have been completed and contracts signed."