Town centre set to blossom as high street ‘turns a corner’

Dan Hannan

While businesses have faced months of disruption from ongoing town centre roadworks, Tonbridge will reap long-term benefits from its major regeneration scheme.

This is the view of Rob Smith, of Pavilion Flowers, who has kept a keen eye on the High Street’s fortunes over the past two decades from his stall in the centre of town.

Though he admitted trade has been affected by the £2.65million scheme involving widening high street pavements, improving street signs and installing a new cycle lane, Mr Smith believes its expected completion next month is set to offer a valuable economic boost.

Mr Smith said: “The regeneration project will be good for the town, and I think Tonbridge has already definitely turned a corner, with customers spending more. We’ve been here for 20 years now and I feel confident for the future as we have a lot of loyal customers.

“My only fear about it is that, in its second phase, there has been talk of not restoring two-way traffic during the works.”

From his high street location, Mr Smith has seen the town’s retail environment go through a number of changes. However, he feels there are encouraging signs that a growing number of companies are setting up in the town and he believes the regeneration plans will attract a larger number of quality independent stores.

Funding for the 38-week-long works was awarded through the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, with its chairman, Peter Jones, claiming the town improvements will create local jobs and attract new businesses.

Kent County Council spokesperson Thom Morris confirmed the completion date had slipped from its original date of April 11, 2016.

He said: “The completion date is currently for the end of April. There are a number of reasons why the scheme has been pushed back slightly – BT ducting had to be lowered in a significant area of the footway which resulted in slower progress than expected.

“Additional crews have been brought in to bring the programme back on track. Completion is still subject to the weather being favourable and no further underground service issues – as is the case with any construction project of this kind.”

Jeremy Whittaker, Economic Regeneration Officer at Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, added: “Once completed, the works will help to create a much more pleasant shopping environment.

“With the widening of the pavements there will be greater opportunity for cafés, bars and restaurants to spill out on to the street, encouraging shoppers and visitors to spend more time and money in the town centre.”

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