The third day of the Rushden Lakes planning inquiry has heard more evidence from retail and planning experts.
The inquiry is being held at East Northamptonshire Council’s Thrapston headquarters to hear arguments both for and against the proposed Rushden Lakes retail and leisure development for Skew Bridge.
The witnesses were called by the applicant, LXB Retail Properties, the company behind the Rushden Lakes development and East Northamptonshire Council.
Colin Burnett, a retail planning policy witness called by the applicant, gave evidence and was cross examined for about a total of eight hours yesterday (Wednesday) and today (Thursday).
His evidence included details about how each of the town centres in north Northamptonshire was performing and how much was being spent by consumers.
During his cross examination of Mr Burnett, Russell Harris, QC for the Grosvenor Centre, said: “You need to put the right things in the right places. You wouldn’t put a huge range of high end shops in a market village because it simply can’t sustain the offer.
“If you provide a higher order offer in a lower order centre, that lower order centre has to punch above its weight and have a wider catchment.”
Mr Burnett said: “There is a significant population in Rushden, Higham Ferrers and Raunds.
“It’s my evidence that Rushden’s natural catchment has a similar level of population to the other main towns, and it’s growing.
“My analysis shows that this [Rushden Lakes] would bring Rushden’s [retail] retention level back up to between Corby and Kettering’s.
Despite Wellingborough Council’s support for the Rushden Lakes development, Morag Ellis, QC for the objecting consortium of Corby, Kettering and Northampton borough councils, alleged Wellingborough town centre was ‘in decline’ after suffering a ‘10 per cent loss in market share since 2005.
This was disputed by Mr Burnett, who said there was now four or five less shops than in 2005.
He said: “A difference of four or five shops is not much difference. It should not be explained as a 10 per cent decline. I think the figures are misleading.”
Keith Nutter, who advises on retail and leisure developments across the UK, was also asked to give his expert view on the application today.
He said Wellingborough’s shops had suffered ‘significant leakage’ of trade to Northampton in recent years, and he identified a need to provide an enhanced retail offer in the south of North Northamptonshire to serve both Wellingborough and Rushden.
He said: “I believe it would be sensible for Rushden and Wellingborough to jointly meet the retail needs for the south of north Northamptonshire.
“Therefore I do not think it’s relevant to consider other sites in Northampton, Bedford or Corby [for this development].
“There are no superior alternatives within, or on the edge of, Wellingborough or Rushden, to this site for this development.”
When asked his opinion on whether the proposed Rushden Lakes development would have an impact on investment in other county towns, Mr Nutter said: “There’s no clear evidence that potential operators would be prevented from investing if Rushden Lakes is approved.”
He also said there was no evidence that Helical Bar, which owns Willow Place in Corby, would change its investment plans in the future.
And the suggestion that people from the Northmapton area would spend about £24m annually at Rushden Lakes ‘defied logic’.
He said: “It defies logic that people living in Northampton would drive to Rushden when they have everything on their doorstep.
“If you wanted a bigger and better retail offer you would get in your car and drive to Milton Keynes.
“There’s no logic or any sense in moving this to Kettering, Corby or Northampton because it won’t serve the south of north Northamptonshire. It’s my view that Rushden Lakes would serve Rushen and Wellingborough.”