‘We’re not paying £2.50 to look in a few shops!’

Parking charges at Ashford Designer Outlet have been hiked so ‘unnecessarily’ that shoppers say they will now think twice before visiting.

Bosses at the McArthurGlen site have increased rates for the second time in less than two years – with the lowest available now set at £2.50 for four hours.

New parking charges have been introduced at Ashford Designer Outlet, sparking anger among shoppersNew parking charges have been introduced at Ashford Designer Outlet, sparking anger among shoppers
New parking charges have been introduced at Ashford Designer Outlet, sparking anger among shoppers

The complex, which has more than 100 stores following a £90 million expansion in 2019, was originally free to visitors when it opened in March 2000.

Then, in February 2004, shoppers were charged a rate of 50 cents for two hours for the first time.

After changing this to £1 for up to four hours, the outlet then doubled the cost to £2 in June 2022.

However, less than two years later the shopping center increased this charge again to £2.50.

Those wishing to stay longer will have to pay a further £2.50 for a further four hours.

How Ashford Designer Outlet compares to other shopping centers in KentHow Ashford Designer Outlet compares to other shopping centers in Kent
How Ashford Designer Outlet compares to other shopping centers in Kent

Shoppers, on the other hand, can park for free at Bluewater shopping center and Westwood Cross in Thanet.

The money generated by outlet shoppers goes to McArthurGlen, a private company headquartered in London.

When asked why it has increased its rates, a company spokesperson explained: “The change was necessary to take into account inflationary increases in costs, including staff costs for traffic management, and to allow for maintenance and ongoing improvements to our parking facilities to make.

“It is important to note that our rates remain great value compared to those in the city center and the wider competition.”

But the company’s decision is not well received by many outlet visitors.

Parking charges at Ashford Designer Outlet have risen to £2.50 for four hoursParking charges at Ashford Designer Outlet have risen to £2.50 for four hours
Parking charges at Ashford Designer Outlet have risen to £2.50 for four hours

Little Burton resident Jayne Owen says she doesn’t understand why the attraction has to increase costs.

“It feels pretty brutal,” the 66-year-old said.

“Most of the people who go there during the week are probably local and, like all of us, they go to their favorite shops and that’s it.

“So I don’t understand why you have to pay for a maximum of four hours.

“But either way, I think the new rates will have a negative impact on visitor numbers.”

According to current parking rules, the center is free after 5pm from Monday to Sunday.

However, Hemraj and Junita Kambang, from South Ashford, say they will now visit the site less after the price increase.

Kambang, 50, said: “Increasing it to £2.50 is too much and simply unnecessary.

‘I understand that inflation is rising and that shops have to think about rent, but before the increase the shop was doing well.

“Prices in stores have also risen there.

“The outlet is not the kind of place where you just go to buy clothes; you go there to eat and also where people take their children.

Jayne Owen says the move to increase fees is “bold”.Jayne Owen says the move to increase fees is “bold”.
Jayne Owen says the move to increase fees is “bold”.

“We normally go there once or twice a month and sometimes we take friends with us in the car.

“But now we go less often, and when we do go, we don’t hang around for a while.

“In many stores it takes a long time before you buy something, so prices must be more attractive to people and companies.”

Kerri Hodson, of Brookfield Road, insists she does not understand why the center needs charges at all given the number of visitors.

The 35-year-old mother said: “If you go there to spend money on clothes, where does that money for parking actually go?

Junita and Hemraj Kambang say they won't visit the outlet as often nowJunita and Hemraj Kambang say they won't visit the outlet as often now
Junita and Hemraj Kambang say they won’t visit the outlet as often now
Ashford Designer Outlet now houses more than 100 storesAshford Designer Outlet now houses more than 100 stores
Ashford Designer Outlet now houses more than 100 stores

“I just don’t understand why the price has gone up again.

‘Parking anywhere in Ashford is expensive and on public holidays the whole town is congested anyway.

“The outlet offers free parking after 5pm, although that’s one of those things that isn’t advertised well enough.”

Lower High Street store owner Geoff Mathews, whose company Soundcraft Hi-Fi has been in business since 1962, does not believe the higher rates at the outlet will encourage more people to park in the city centre.

At Dover Place and Vicarage Lane car parks, Ashford Borough Council charges 65 pence for a 30 minute stay and £1.30 for an hour, £2.60 for two hours, £3.90 for three hours and £5.20 for four o’clock.

Geoff Mathews from Soundcraft Hi-Fi shop on Lower High Street in AshfordGeoff Mathews from Soundcraft Hi-Fi shop on Lower High Street in Ashford
Geoff Mathews from Soundcraft Hi-Fi shop on Lower High Street in Ashford

Mathews, 72, said: ‘I don’t think the outlet’s decision will affect the high street in any way.

‘Maybe people can now park in a city center car park instead and walk there – of course we shop owners would welcome that.

“It would be nice to see more people passing by on the way to the socket if they decide to park in a town center car park, but I don’t think that will happen as parking is an issue for many people in Ashford.”

The new outlet rates, which came into effect on March 25, will not affect blue badge holders and those who want to stay for up to 30 minutes and can continue to use the site for free.

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