Business News

Development Projects

Big 8

CGI of Commercial QuarterPlease note that while significant progress is being made on the Big 8 key regeneration projects, these will be detailed in the next edition of Business News.

Due to this edition being released in the run-up to the General Election on June 8th, and strict rules governing the promotion of projects involving government funding, we will update our readers in the next edition.

If you would like to see who is standing as candidates in the General Election on 8th June, you can view the candidates on the Ashford Borough Council website.

Property News

KM Group moves into Park Mall

Love Ashford sign in Park MallThe reinvigoration of Park Mall shopping centre since it was purchased by Ashford Borough Council in June 2015 has left everyone impressed.

Following the council’s acquisition – to breathe new life into the formerly run-down area of the town centre following calls from residents to improve its fortunes – there have been many success stories from businesses who have made Park Mall their home.

Primarily these businesses have been quality independent retailers, who have proudly fashioned a fresh offer within Park Mall. They have brought enthusiasm, creativity and a sense of community not just to Park Mall but to the town centre as a whole, in which 46% of businesses are quality independents. This has been best evidenced in the entrepreneurial independent businesses within the council’s Made In Ashford shop project and the events themed around Easter and Halloween, in addition to treasure hunts.

Footfall has risen in Park Mall by almost 7% as a result and has led to six existing retailers renewing their leases as well as attracting more than a dozen others. This has proved the council’s astute commercial approach and the competencies it has in-house to conclude such important agreements with businesses, all of whom are proactively championed through – the UK’s first digital high street.

And with developers demonstrating confidence in the local economy with a wide range of major regeneration projects ongoing – such as the Ashford College campus, Elwick Place, Chapel Down brewery, part of forthcoming developments on both sides of the Victoria Way – local businesses are also showing increased faith in Ashford town centre.

March 2017 brought yet more exciting news for Park Mall. Ashford Borough Council is delighted to welcome the KM Group to Park Mall. The nationally respected regional publishing group which writes, prints and distributes The Kentish Express, the leading newspaper title for the Ashford borough, is moving into Unit 4, opposite The Little Teapot.

KM Group Operations Director Duncan Gray said: "We are delighted to be relocating our team into Park Mall, it's a great location and it is exciting to be part of the centre's developing community. We look forward to a long and successful partnership with Ashford Borough Council; whose regeneration team have worked so hard to bring this opportunity to fruition.”

In April 2017, the KM Group announced that Iliffe Media Ltd had acquired the entire shareholding of the KM Media Group.

Core Commercial seals three property deals in Ashford

Core Commercial from Paddock Wood markets factories and warehouses across Kent and into Sussex, Surrey and Southeast London and provide occupiers, investors or developers with a comprehensive property consultancy service to maximise the value of their property assets. .

They recently announced a hat-trick of deals struck in Ashford.

The former Houchin Aerospace 70,000 sq ft factory warehouse on Hilton Road at Cobbs Wood, Ashford has been sold to George Brewster Limited, part of the Kent Space Group who have existing self storage centres at Wotton Road, Ashford as well as Lordswood, Chatham. Brewster intends to refurbish the property and let units to individual occupiers. Ashford - Hilton Road - Original PDF details

National trampoline operator Flip Out Limited has signed a new lease on a fully refurbished and bespoke warehouse of 30,000 sqft on the Henwood Estate close to the town centre in Ashford, Kent.  This will be Flip Out's 18th new UK venue and who have trampoline centres ranging from Glasgow to Southampton. Core Commercial currently have warehouse units ranging from 5,240 sqft (details link)  to 28,800 sqft (details link) remaining to be let. 

Hartwood Joinery Limited has leased a 17,000 sqft factory at Brunswick Road, Ashford. Hartwood create and install bespoke kitchens, reception areas, cabinets, wall cladding, landscape solutions, bedrooms and bathrooms across a wide range of luxury locations across the UK.


Business Support

Attention all SME Manufacturers!

Manufacturing Growth Programme: screen shot from its websiteDid you know that there are grants available to support business improvements?

As an SME Manufacturer that wants to grow and become more competitive, this could be invaluable for your business.

Delivered by Economic Growth Solutions, the Manufacturing Growth Programme grants will help you to:

  • Identify opportunities and create plans for growth and improvement
  • Work with the best external experts to implement those plans
  • Cover 35% of the cost of implementing the plans through a growth/improvement grant
  • Connect to wider support to maximise opportunities for growth

To find out more information and to see if your business is eligible, visit the dedicated website.

Tenterden Watch is here

TShops in Tenterdenenterden Watch exists to help local shops, public houses and restaurants in Tenterden to help reduce business crime, especially to share information about theft and shoplifting.

Supported by Tenterden Town Council, Ashford Borough Council, Kent Police, the Home Office and of course local businesses, the Ashford & Weald Partnership Against Crime is a mixture of 75 outlets and security staff who all use the "Town Net" radio system. These radios are used by both retailers and the night-time economy, who all work together to achieve the main goal of business crime reduction, making the borough of Ashford a safer place for everyone. All of the current members are connected through a series of radios on which they can share any intelligence or any suspicions about shoplifters in or around the area.

The partnership also works hand in hand with Ashford Monitoring Centre (AMC), which monitors the radio system and provides CCTV support 24/7, 365 days a year. AMC not only covers the Ashford area but the Tenterden area too. As well as AMC, retailers and the night-time economy are supported by the independent CCTV control rooms situated within County Square shopping Centre and the Park Mall shopping centre, to aid all customers who operate within the town centre.

Being a member of Ashford & Weald Partnership Against Crime comes with many benefits, listed above. Businesses will also be invited to Shopwatch intelligence meetings or Pubwatch meetings (depending on the area you belong to). And finally you will have access to the Partnership's website. Here you will be able to submit incident reports and look at pictures of previous shoplifters to better your knowledge of offenders operating in the area.


Local Economy

Virgin Media boost for Ashford businesses

Virgin Media\'s big red chair in Ashford High StreetVirgin Media has announced that businesses and homes in Kent will be next to benefit from an ultrafast broadband and entertainment boost.

As part of its Project Lightning expansion, Virgin Media plans to extend its fibre optic network to up to 108,000 businesses and homes across Kent. This has the potential to transform the quality of broadband in a county where the average download speed is just 18Mbps.

Those who wish to take Virgin Media’s internet services will be connected to ultrafast broadband with entry level download speeds of 100Mbps, and reaching up to 300Mbps for residents and 350Mbps for small businesses.

Work has already begun in Ashford to connect up to 8,000 new premises and is expected to be completed across the county before the end of 2018.

Neil Bartholomew, Regional Director for the South East at Virgin Media, said: “We’re delighted to be expanding our network to tens of thousands more homes and businesses to help to make Kent a world class digital hotspot. Local residents and businesses will soon be getting the high-speed connectivity they deserve. We urge more people to come together and register their interest - your street could be next.”

It is important that a growing town like Ashford has the best modern technology and significant digital infrastructure investments such as this have been broadly welcomed.

Backed by parent company Liberty Global, Virgin Media is investing £3bn to extend its ultrafast fibre broadband network to an additional 4 million premises, to reach a total of 17 million homes and businesses.

As network expansion continues across the country, Virgin Media calls for more people to register interest at:

Businesses thrive in Ashford

We\'re FOR AshfordAward wins, multi-million pound investment in expansion, job creation and ground-breaking service innovations are the hallmarks of businesses thriving in Ashford, which is the fastest growing town between London and Continental Europe.

Ashford was voted the best place in Kent to do business in a poll by investment and business relocation agency Locate in Kent and it continues to attract and support long-established businesses and start-ups alike.

Ashford-based firms RIFT Group and Breakthrough Funding were triumphant in the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce Annual Business Awards in April 2017. Breakthrough Funding won the Most Promising New Business accolade. It helps SMEs claim cash for innovation – the firm has claimed back £7m in cash and tax relief, enabling their tech pioneers to expand and thrive. RIFT scooped the Excellence in Customer Service Award. Formed in 1999, the family-run business now employs 170 staff and specialises in tax refund and accounting services, focused on consumers and the SME market.

Also at the awards Katy Barker of Ashford’s Directline Structures was honoured as a finalist in the Young Person in Business of the Year 2017. Chamber Chief Executive Jo James said: “The quality of applications continues to increase year on year, just going to show that Kent is truly an entrepreneurial county. The awards are about demonstrating business at its best and the RIFT Group and Breakthrough Funding are exceptional winners.”

Pioneering work is being carried out by Ashford-based medical device manufacturer Integrated Technologies Limited, known as ITL Group. It is working in a consortium of 20 companies including technology giants, Phillips and Siemens, to create new products to improve cancer treatment. ITL hopes to develop an improved cancer imaging device to identify the size of tumours. The firm will manufacture prototypes based on designs by King’s College London, which will be presented to Harvard Medical School this summer.

Combining business with pleasure are Ashford entrepreneurs Steve and Lisa Wootton, who are investing £1.5m in developing one of the biggest trampoline arenas in the South East. Flip Out is due to open in the town this spring, with the couple currently recruiting up to 60 staff to run the 28,000 sq ft family entertainment centre.

For more news on developments in Ashford visit

Clarion Housing Group completes deal for Conningbrook Lakes site

Conningbrook - artist\'s impressionClarion Housing Group has secured a site on the outskirts of Ashford, with the potential to build 300 high-quality new homes.

The Group completed a deal in March with Brett Group and Ashford Borough Council for the 31 acre site at Conningbrook Lakes. The new development will comprise two, three, four and five bedroom houses, as well as a small number of apartments, all for private sale.

Chartway Construction has been appointed to build the homes. The land already has planning permission and the first tranche of homes are expected to be available by the summer of 2018.

Conningbrook Lakes Country Park is a project to gradually transform the former quarry site next to the Julie Rose Stadium into a family orientated country park around the existing lakes, offering a variety of leisure and water-based activities for residents and visitors – and one of the most desirable places to live in the region.

Since opening in 2015 the country park has proved popular and the council's long-term vision is to gradually increase the range and level of facilities on offer over time. This will be funded through the residential development, so as the homes are built the activities available at the park can expand. With a beautiful lakeside setting, views to the North Downs and access to a network of country trails, this park is another stunning attraction for the borough – a real jewel in Ashford’s crown – and a place it is hoped that many visitors will explore and enjoy.

Kerry Kyriacou, Executive Director of Development for Clarion Housing Group, said:  “We have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Ashford Borough Council and now we look forward to helping to deliver its ambitious vision for Conningbrook Lakes.”

Earlier in the year, Clarion Housing Group’s Bakers Court development scooped an award at Ashford Borough Council Design Awards in the Best Affordable Development category.  Bakers Court has been built in a contemporary style within landscaped surroundings and the apartments and houses are spacious and innovative with plentiful storage. The gardens, terraces and balconies across the scheme mean that each family benefits from its own private space. Clarion owns and manages 125,000 homes across 176 local authorities and is the largest housing association in the UK.

Big deal for Ashford as buses get ‘little & often’

Stagecoach Little & OftenHave you seen some silver and blue minibuses on your travels around Ashford lately? You must have!

That's because a fleet of smart new Mercedes minibuses hit the road in Ashford in February. Stagecoach has launched the high-spec minibus service, branded ‘little & often’, which provides buses every five or six minutes along routes serving the hospital, town centre/rail station, Kennington and Park Farm.

Little & Often - the facts

  • This represents a £2.8 million investment in the 30 new minibuses
  • They are the first minibuses to accept contactless payment in the south east
  • The routes boost the frequency of bus routes serving the hospital, town centre, Kennington and Park Farm
  • The new ‘turn-up-and-go’ service is the only one of its kind in the UK
  • The new minibuses come with faux leather seats and ‘Euro 6’ specification low-noise engines - representing the very latest in clean engine technology

Stagecoach has also introduced ultra-convenient payment options so that customers don’t need to carry cash to buy a ticket. The new service accepts contactless payments made with debit and credit cards, as well as Apple Pay and Android Pay.

The ‘Little & often’ buses run from about 6am to 11pm every day including Sundays and bank holidays. Whereas three buses an hour used to run on the existing route B from Park Farm, this is now ten buses per hour. Kennington and Willesborough are also benefitting from the ‘little & often’ service, with up to 12 buses an hour running to and from the hospital.

Philip Norwell, Stagecoach South East managing director said “We're always looking for better ways to help people get around town. That's why, working with Kent County Council and Ashford Borough Council, we've introduced little & often – a new turn-up-and-go bus service.” He added, “What people want is convenience, and that’s what little & often is all about; quick and reliable bus travel from where you are to where you need to be - when you need it.”

The borough council has welcomed the faster and more reliable bus journeys as a sign of more positive investment in Ashford’s transport network and another successful business investing in the borough.

 More information is available on the Stagecoach website at


Vote for your favourite Tenterden business

Muddy StilettosMuddy Stilettos is the UK’s leading regional lifestyle blog, with over 100,000 readers and a social following of 50,000 across 18 English counties. The blog is the ‘urban guide to the countryside’ for intelligent, fun-loving women who live outside the metropolis, but who want to be in the know for the cool, quirky and unmissable things to do where they live – from destination pubs to romantic getaways, cool kids theatre to pop-up supper clubs.

The Muddy Stilettos Awards are a natural extension of the blog, dedicated to searching out the most unique and inspiring local lifestyle businesses across 27 categories. Best of all, the awards are totally FREE to enter, from start to finish.

You have until Wednesday 24th May to nominate any business based in Kent with particular emphasis placed on local businesses "who deserve a pat on the back".

The 5 Finalists per category will be announced on the Awards site on Wednesday 7th June. The Finals are held live on the awards site in real time, so as votes are placed the percentages will move and you will be able to see who is winning.

The Finals last one week only, and close at 12pm on Wednesday 14th June.

All winners receive:

  • A beautifully-designed Muddy Stilettos Awards gold Window Rosette and Certificate
  • Editorial coverage in Muddy Stilettos Kent
  • Assistance in achieving coverage in regional media
  • The chance to network with other winners at the Awards drinks in a relaxed environment
  • Trophies available on request (at winner’s cost)
  • Finalists receive a Certificate
  • Winner’s Drinks, which will be held on Thursday 22nd June at Chapel Down Winery. 


Business Profile

£9m investment and 20 new jobs at Jaguar Land Rover

Paul Barrett and Darrell HealeyLocate in Kent reports that Waterbrook Park is to be home to a £9m state-of-the-art Jaguar Land Rover retailer after a deal was made with Barretts Motor Group.

The agreement with GSE Group, the Ashford-based company developing Waterbrook Park, is reported to involve the purchase of a five-acre site and development of a 3,600m2 new car sales and service centre.

The new Jaguar Land Rover dealership is due to be up and running in late 2018/early 2019, with the staff at the existing Orbital Park dealership relocating. There is also, reports Locate in Kent, the prospect of 20 new jobs.

Darrell Healey, Managing Director of GSE Group, said: “Jaguar Land Rover is synonymous with quality, design and British engineering. We’re delighted that Waterbrook Park will soon play its part in supporting the ongoing success of the UK’s largest automotive manufacturer.”

Paul Barrett, Managing Director of Barretts Motor Group, said: “We have seen a significant rise in sales of both Jaguar and Land Rover as new and exciting models have come to the market, most recently the Jaguar F-PACE, and the all new Land Rover Discovery and the forthcoming all-electric I-PACE.

“From under this one new roof in Ashford we will be able to showcase the full range of Jaguar Land Rover vehicles, and also have the latest high-spec servicing facilities. We have outgrown our current local dealership, but still wanted easy access to the M20 and rest of Ashford.

Barretts Motor Group, which can trace its automotive roots in Kent back more than 115 years, joins Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (formerly VOSA), the vehicle inspection organisation, sponsored by the Department of Transport, at Waterbrook Park.

Waterbrook Park is also home to the award-winning Ashford International Truckstop, which owners GSE Group has plans to extend in size to meet growing demand and help remove unwanted trucks from parking overnight in and around Ashford.



Employability Points Scheme - a real opportunity for new blood in your business

Employability Points Scheme logoThis is an opportunity for you to join the University of Kent's top performing students, local and national business leaders and key stakeholders to celebrate the successes of the Employability Points Scheme at the annual Rewards Evening.

The Employability Points Scheme (EPS) bridges the gap between education and industry, and this event celebrates the highest achieving students, as well as the involvement of key sponsoring organisations.

Essentially, the EPS rewards students for their involvement in extra-curricular activities while they are studying at the University of Kent. Students can claim ‘Employability Points’ for each activity completed. Towards the end of each academic year, students can redeem their points for the chance to apply for rewards.

These rewards include paid internships, project placements, work experience, training, vouchers and much more, offered by businesses and organisations.

For external businesses or organisations, sponsoring the EPS gives them an opportunity to work closely with the University of Kent. Through the scheme, the companies gain access to highly skilled students, who can make a valuable contribution to the company and perhaps offer a fresh perspective. They can also give companies the chance to potentially meet corporate social responsibility agendas.

In 2015-16, over 6,700 students engaged with the scheme with 617 rewards available! The EPS was also nationally recognised in 2015 through being shortlisted for the second time for a Times Higher Education Award in the category, 'Outstanding Support for Students'.

The event will be held in Woolf College, Canterbury Campus on Tuesday 6th June 2017, arrival is at 5.30pm for a buffet and networking, with the ceremony itself starting at 6.30pm.

Find out more information about the evening, sponsored by Santander Universities.


Kent B2B 2017

Cllr Clarkson addresses special guests at Kent B2B 2017Tuesday 25th April saw the annual Kent B2B event at the Ashford International Hotel. Hundreds of delegates took the opportunity to find out what the borough could do for their business.

Ashford is rated the number one business location in Kent and undergoing an exciting and extraordinary transformation. It is one of the fastest growing towns in the South East and is a place for opportunity and innovation, especially with over £100m of investment infrastructure in the Big 8 Projects coming to fruition over the next five years.

Ashford is only 38 minutes from London by HS1 on high-speed rail, under two hours from Paris and is easily accessible to the rest of Europe. It is home to successful national and international companies including Coty Inc, Brakes, Hitachi and Premier Foods, all employing local people and services, and with over 6,000 registered businesses and 51,000 employees, Ashford is a dynamic and innovative business destination.

Ashford Borough Council representatives talked to delegates about starting or growing their businesses. If you missed our Economic Development team on the day, then good news! You can also message them anytime at

Additionally, a lunchtime event showcased Ashford's major development projects showcased in a powerful presentation by the council's Leader, Cllr Gerry Clarkson (pictured).

Useful Links

The National Minimum Wage and Living Wage

National Living WageBoth the National Minimum and National Living Wage went up on 1st April 2017. By law businesses must pay workers at least the appropriate National Minimum or National Living Wage depending on their age and whether they are an apprentice.


Aged 25 & over

Aged 21 to 24

Aged 18 to 20

Aged under 18

1st October 2016





From 1st April 2017 (current rate)





As an employer you have a duty to be aware of and comply with the different legal National Minimum and Living Wage rates. If you need more information about the legal requirements then you can seek advice from Acas.

Even if you are paying the correct minimum rates you should be aware of some common mistakes made when calculating worker’s wages which can result in not complying with the law. To find out more information and see some examples, visit the government's website

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