by Thom Morris
John Lewis has announced it is opening a £7m store in Ashford next year just off junction nine of the M20.
The development will create about 160 new jobs for the town while the store, specialising in homeware, will be housed over two floors with about 40,000 square feet of shopping space.
The plans also include a cafe and about 200 parking spaces on the junction of Fougeres Way and Maidstone Road, alongside the Drovers roundabout.
John Lewis managing director Andy Street said: "We believe the opening in Ashford will offer customers in the town and the surrounding areas a broader, more convenient shopping offer.
"Ashford is an ambitious town with a positive attitude to high quality development and we look forward to becoming part of the Ashford story."
John Lewis at home focuses on furniture, furnishings, electrical and home technology such as TVs and stereo equipment. Customers will also have access to the rest of the store's range, such as clothes and handbags, with online ordering points located throughout the shop.
Ashford borough council leader Peter Wood has welcomed the announcement saying it will complement the town's existing shops while enhancing Ashford for shoppers.
He said: "The plans are at an early stage but this is potentially exciting news for the people of Ashford and the whole of East Kent. John Lewis is a household name with a strong reputation for high quality products and services, exactly the type of company that we wish to attract to Ashford.
"Should the plans be approved, it provides further evidence of Ashford's growing reputation as the place to invest."
This will be the chain's third store in Kent, with another one specialising in homeware in Tunbridge Wells and the county's flagship store at Bluewater.
However, some businesses are concerned that another out-of-town shopping centre could affect trade in Ashford high street itself.
Bybrook Barn owner Terry Burch, who says the new Dobbies garden centre is already affecting his trade, believes the town will undoubtedly suffer.
He said: "I'm sure it will affect people's businesses. I don't think the planners have got a clue what they're doing and if these people want to come here they just put them wherever. The town will just die on its feet.
"We've already got this massive Sainsbury's opening which will be selling more than just food and Dobbies is affecting us. I have no faith in doing anything about it; it seems to me that it will happen irrespective of what people say."
* A public consultation on the John Lewis plans will be held on Friday, July 1, between 10.30am and 4pm and again on Saturday, July 2, between 9.30am and 3pm in the lobby of Waitrose (part of the John Lewis Partnership) at Repton Park.
Detailed plans for the development will be displayed and John Lewis representatives will be on hand to answer questions.