DARTFORD Council leader Jeremy Kite has defended the decision to spend £1,610 on a market appearance from children’s TV character Peppa Pig.

The town was awarded a £79,500 share of cash through the Mary Portas pilot towns scheme, which aims to rejuvenate Britain’s struggling high streets.

A national newspaper accused the council and town team of squandering the grant by hiring the costume to help launch its Sunday market trading scheme in July last year.

Cllr Kite told News Shopper: "It’s a shame there’s all this cynicism and spite - they don’t know it’s a waste of money.

"We needed to launch the Sunday trading scheme for more shops to open on a Sunday, or open for longer hours, and we needed an event to attract the families.

"After speaking to traders we got the official Peppa Pig in.

"There were hundreds of people in the town - they loved it."

He added: "If you talk to parents of any child under five Peppa Pig is god in their eyes."

Cllr Kite says a number of town traders have reported a 20 per cent surge in profits since the launch event.

He added: "That can be the difference between survival and failure - you try telling them it’s a failure."

The council attracted criticism from retail expert Paul Turner-Mitchell who obtained the figures through a freedom of information request.

So far, Dartford Council, working together with a team of local traders, has spent £17,251 of its £79,500 while 12 per cent of the £1.2million awarded to councils across the UK last May has been used.

Cllr Kite said: "We always said the money was not enough to change the fortunes of the town. We want to spend it wisely and we have mostly done that.

"We have turned the corner just, you have to be realistic. There is lots more to do.

"It is one small part of what we’re doing and it did bring more people to the town."

Labour’s shadow leader of the council branded as “shambolic” the decision to invite Peppa Pig.

Cllr Geoff Prout said: “Dartford’s town centre is facing a crisis and it beggars belief that Cllr. Kite thinks blowing the Portas money on a man in a Peppa Pig suit, or shopping in Waitrose, is going to solve the town’s problems.

“It’s shambolic, wasteful and has made Dartford a laughing stock.

“As Cllr Kite dithers, the town’s infrastructure is deteriorating and one business after another is leaving – they need to get on with the job.”

The council and the town team have set up a community centre in The Orchard shopping centre and now working with technology company NCR to provide free wi-fi and information screens around the town.