Plans for a weekly market celebrating the ‘Best of Kent’ have been proposed in a bid to “revitalise” a town centre.
Shoppers in Ashford have welcomed the idea, which is due to be proposed by Labour group members at a borough council meeting tonight (Thursday).
But the council’s leader has expressed caution, as the authority seeks to address a £3 million funding gap.
Labour says the market would boost footfall by selling the best produce in the county - including local food, ale, wine, clothes, and crafts.
People out in the high street yesterday told KentOnline the idea is exactly what is needed to get the town centre bustling again.
Joanne Veryard says she loves shopping, but there is nothing in Ashford anymore so a market would be a good idea.
“Since 2019 we have been trying to move out of Ashford because it's not the way it used to be when we moved in 2010 - it was lovely then,” the 40-year-old from Arlington, South Ashford, said.
“We moved from Charlton to Ashford and now this is all empty. The market would really help to bring people back.”
Terry Sams, 60, who works in the town, says it would be good to see local farmers and independent traders selling in the Lower High Street.
"It's a great idea because towns with markets always seem to be more successful,” he said.
“Markets are dying. It's great the council wants to bring it back.”
Janice Barford, from Washford Farm, says it would “make the town a bit more interesting”.
"It would be good to have a fruit and veg stall, and maybe some crafts. The old market had such a variety,” she added.
"When my children were young, on Saturday mornings we would go to the market and then come into town and it was always so busy."
Kelly Stanley from Park Farm added: "I'm all for them bringing it back, it should never have gone in the first place.
"With the climate as it is, we need cheaper stuff to help the economy and people's living standards.”
Labour group leader Brendan Chilton says energy and investment are needed to “revive” the town centre.
“Markets are great places for communities to interact and they support our high streets,” he said.
“We want the council to run with this idea as we believe if we want our town centre to thrive then we need the best of Kent here in Ashford bringing people into our town centre.
“We are committed to reviving our town centre and this is the first step on that journey.”
Fellow Labour councillor Diccon Spain added the revamped offer would give people a “compelling reason” to come to Ashford and is a “win-win” for residents and existing traders.
“If we want our town centre to thrive one of the best, most sustainable ways of getting things going, and keeping things going, is to have a really good well-run market – run by a good market manager – back at the heart of our town,” he said.
It will be proposed that the market would operate from 9am until 4.30pm in a designated area of the high street every Saturday.
Cllr Noel Ovenden (Ash Ind), leader of ABC, told KentOnline: “Our portfolio holder Heather Hayward has been working with officers over the past few months to pursue the review of market provision in the high street with a view to finding a sustainable solution to enhancing the offering in the town centre, so the concept is nothing new to us.
“The motion being put forward will attract considerable expense and in line with the council’s constitution will, if proposed and seconded, remain deferred until considered in full at a future cabinet meeting.
“This will allow a report to be brought forward which will allow members to make an informed decision in the best interests of all residents.”
He added the Ashford Independent-Green leadership group is working to deliver “legacy savings” from the previous Conservative administration. This includes proposals such as moving the authority’s HQ to International House, saving £1.3m with another £1.5m needed to be shaved from the budget.
“Failing to support the savings proposals will likely lead to the loss or reduction of vital services to residents,” said Cllr Ovenden.
“I would hope that in proposing the motion, Labour councillors have given due consideration to the savings needed and will support the move to International House leaving the council in a stronger position to deliver benefits such as the market they propose.”
Stallholders have pitched up in the Lower High Street since 2008 - shortly after the opening of the County Square extension. In 2019, they requested to return back to the top end of town but were refused.
Street trading takes place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.