Ashford International Station
Ashford International Station
Ashford’s credentials as ‘an international town’ have been boosted with the news that Handelsbanken, the Swedish-owned bank, is to open an office in the Kent town which was identified as the best business location in the county by Locate in Kent’s latest Perception Study.
The study measures the attitudes of key business figures in the South East towards Kent as a business location and establishes ratings for areas of the county. Conducted by market research company Facts International – a Kent Excellence in Business Awards finalist and itself based in Ashford – the study involved interviews with developers and investors, property agents, architects and other advisers, and also businesses who have and have not considered relocating to Kent.
Handelsbanken started operations in Britain in 1982 and manages a network of nearly 200 branches across the UK. Founded in 1871, it is one of Sweden's leading banks with 834 branches in 25 countries, and more than 11,700 employees.
The firm has agreed to take 730 sq ft of space at International House, an imposing office block which was acquired by Ashford Borough Council a year ago as part of the planned Commercial Quarter development, a dynamic new business hub for the South East.
David Kiernan of Handelsbanken said Ashford’s excellent rail connections – London St Pancras is only 38 minutes away via HS1 high-speed trains – was a key factor in their decision to initially locate at International House pending some new office space coming on stream in the town in early 2017. “The station is on our doorstep so commuters will be able to pop in to see us on their way to work,” he added.
The news that Handelsbanken has chosen International House could soon be followed by more announcements, said Stewart Smith, Senior Commercial Development Manager at Ashford Borough Council.
“We are delighted that such a highly-regarded financial services company has recognised the many benefits of choosing International House. As a result of a highly-proactive marketing drive – including exhibiting at MIPIM UK last October where we attracted strong interest from developers and investors – we are in advance negotiations with a number of other potential tenants and we hope to be making announcements soon,” he said.
Stewart said that the strong interest in the remaining office space at International House and elsewhere in the borough was reinforcing the need for new build office space to be created in the Commercial Quarter.
Permission has been granted for the first phase of the Commercial Quarter, a mixed-use development with the potential to deliver up to 55,000 sq m (590,000 sq ft) of prime office space, 150 homes and several thousand jobs.
Ashford, identified in a recent study by Locate in Kent as the best business location in the county, is fast becoming a magnet for major investment. Friends Life Limited Provident has submitted an outline planning application for a 160,000 sq m (1.7m sq ft) storage, distribution and light industrial park at Sevington; while McArthurGlen has lodged a planning application for the expansion of its Ashford Designer Outlet, which attracts three million visitors a year.
Work will also start soon on the new £16m Ashford College after full funding was recently secured for the ambitious project.
The expanding town is perfectly positioned to give businesses a powerful competitive edge. It’s at the heart of the South East’s transport network, already boasting unrivalled rail, road, air and sea links to provide businesses with easy access to 360 million consumers across Europe.
Ashford’s high-speed domestic rail service to central London takes just 38 minutes, while direct Eurostar connections to the Continent mean that Lille is under an hour away, Brussels can be reached in 90 minutes and Paris in less than two hours. Trade links have been boosted with the 1 May launch of direct Eurostar services to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille.
The Government has also given the go-ahead to fund the long-awaited J10a on the M20, which will unlock commercial and economic development potential south of the town centre.
Public realm works are currently under way to transform the site surrounding International House and the Commercial Quarter into an attractive open area, complete with enhanced pedestrian routes from the railway station to the town centre. The council is working in partnership with the Homes and Communities Agency and design practice BDP. The work, funded by £1.3m from HCA, will create an attractive first impression of the town for visitors arriving at the international station.
For more information about Ashford visit www.ashfordfor.com
For more information about Handelsbanken visit www.handelsbanken.co.uk
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