Retail-wise, Ashford high street was never that good. The Kent town I grew up in was constricted by a one-way ring road system that made access difficult.

Retail-wise, Ashford high street was never that good. The Kent town I grew up in was constricted by a one-way ring road system that made access difficult.

Many of the big names in shopping were there - Woolworths, Dixons, Topman - but they were spread out in an impractical way, interspersed with estate agents, temping agencies and kebab shops.

Unless you had a particular penchant for doner meat and burger sauce you were better off heading to Maidstone or Canterbury to go shopping, and that’s what many people did.

For a town that was supposed to be the ‘gateway to Europe’, courtesy of the Eurostar, this was far from ideal. Calais may not be the most picturesque town through which to enter France, but I think most visitors would agree that it more than makes up for that with the vast amounts of cheap booze it offers. Ashford needed its own unique selling point.

From a high street perspective, this revolution came courtesy of a new ring road design. The futuristic ‘shared space’ scheme, which involves pedestrians and cars sharing roads that have lower speed limits and fewer traffic lights, drew mixed reactions from locals, but it was an undeniably bold and expensive move.

At the same time as the ring road revamp, shiny new retail space was added in the town to attract big names.

Debenhams, H&M and Next were among those taking units in the impressive mall extension.

Sadly, the upshot of this investment and development is that the town centre is worse than ever. The new mall area seems to do OK, but the lower part of the town, which recently lost its Blockbuster and Pizza Hut branches, resembles some dystopian wasteland - although, thankfully, the Wetherspoon pub is still there.

Sometimes, however much money and innovation you throw at something, you can’t buck the market. The people of Ashford are well served retail-wise outside the town centre.

There is a McArthurGlen designer outlet in the south of the town, Westfield’s Stratford behemoth is a 25-minute train journey away and residents also have a new out-of-town John Lewis At Home to look forward to next year.

However, Ashford high street remains as much of a conundrum as it was when I got my first doner and chips there 15 years ago.

  • Matt Piner, Research director, Conlumino