A shopping centre has announced it will be shutting its doors earlier in a bid to protect staff after some were “physically assaulted”.
Bosses at County Square in Ashford say the site will now “close fully” at 6pm, meaning all customers must finish up their shopping and leave before the doors are locked for the evening.
While most shops within the mall close at 5.30pm, others such as Poundland and Costa, which usually close at 6pm, may have to wrap up sales earlier so customers can leave the centre on time.
Omid Rezaei, a consultant working on behalf of the centre’s owners, told KentOnline: “The closing time is a combination of matters, including security but also changing retail patterns, tenant expectations and cost pressures.
“There is a town centre wide issue with anti-social behaviour and despite raising matters at local and regional levels, it seems there is no urgency or appetite or resources to tackle it.
“To better protect staff, some who have been physically assaulted in the past, and also for members of the public who visit, amended closing procedures are one aspect of changes being brought in.”
Nicole Bean, manager at Iconic Jewellery Store, feels the changes could be a good thing as anti-social behaviour can become a real problem after school time.
“We finish at 5.30pm anyway so the changes won’t really affect us, but it’s just the kids,” she said.
“They finish school and that’s when they decide to come into town.
“They like picking on the security guards.”
Kyle Reece, owner of County Flowers, feels youths are more of a problem towards the precinct’s extension, but the building is usually quiet after 5pm.
“I have not had any trouble but I have seen other places have,” he said.
“From about 5.15pm this end is very quiet because the main doors [from the high street] close at 5.30pm anyway, the others close later.”
Qamardin Rahman, from mobile accessory store Top Gift, says while the evenings are quiet, he would instead like to see the centre open later to welcome more people who want to shop after work.
“They should open until late because everything is so expensive and people want to stay until late to run their business,” he said.
“Before Covid, they used to close at 6.30pm or 7pm.”
The new 6pm closing time will come into effect from Monday.
On Sundays, the site will shut at 4.30pm.
On signs put up around the centre informing customers about the changes, it says: “We kindly ask shoppers to complete their transactions in time to exit promptly by 6pm.”
In response to security concerns raised by the centre, Ashford district commander Ch Insp Sarah Rivett said: “Our dedicated team of officers are on regular patrol in the town centre to tackle any issues which may arise, including anti-social behaviour.
“All of my officers appreciate the impact of such behaviour on those living and working in the town and we will seek out and take action against offenders.
“I urge anyone who experiences anti-social behaviour to report it to us as soon as possible…”
“Officers from our community safety unit continue to work with partner agencies to deliver schemes which keep the town safe, such as radios supplied by the Ashford Partnership Against Crime (APAC) scheme.
“Ashford also has from the Streetwise App, which gives people the best possible information to keep themselves safe, and the Safe Spaces Scheme, which ensures that anyone who needs help can seek safety in a local business.
“I urge anyone who experiences anti-social behaviour in Ashford, or anywhere else in the district, to report it to us as soon as possible, either through our website or by calling 999 if a crime is in progress.
“Kent residents can also sign up to My Community Voice, a messaging service that helps individuals, businesses and community groups keep in touch with their local policing teams.”
From November to January, police figures show the force received one report of anti-social behaviour from County Square.