Day two of the Rushden Lakes inquiry

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The second day of the Rushden Lakes planning inquiry has heard evidence from retail and planning experts.

Both witnesses were called by the applicant, LXB Retail Properties, the company behind the Rushden Lakes development.

Further details about the specifics of the development were also revealed.

It would include two anchor stores, including Marks & Spencer, 11 other retail units, a garden centre and home and garden stores and various leisure facilities.

LXB hopes to bring Next, Debenhams, Bank, River Island, JD Sport, Monsoon, H&M, New Look, Gap and the Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop, to Skew Bridge.

Much of this morning’s evidence focussed on Northampton.

Commercial property consultant Graham Chase dismissed claims made yesterday by the QCs acting for Northampton’s Grosvenor Centre, which has been owned by Legal and General since 1999, and the consortium of Corby, Kettering and Northampton town centres that Rushden Lakes would have an adverse impact on their facilities and town centres.

Mr Chase said a lack of investment in the Grosvenor Centre was to blame for its loss of market share.

He also said the House of Fraser store in the Grosvenor Centre was one of the ‘bottom performing’ stores in the country, and that both Primark and Debenhams were thought to want moves to alternative locations within Northampton.

Mr Chase said: “I am of the opinion that if the Grosvenor Centre extension was the right approach for improving Northampton town centre there was plenty of opportunity for Legal and General and Northampton Borough Council to bring it forward when shopping centre development in town centres was booming.

“During this period of time Milton Keynes and Leicester have improved their town centres and strengthened their position in the retail hierarchy, which Northampton will not be able to compete with directly.

“Both Leicester and Milton Keynes have John Lewis Partnership full line department stores in their central area. It will not be possible for Northampton to secure this retailer within the centre’s tenant mix.

“It is notable that Milton Keynes and Leicester have been able to improve their central areas despite competition from out-of-town centres.

“I am therefore of the opinion that it is not the out-of-town facilities in the Northampton catchment which is the difficulty for Northampton, as Northampton sits at the centre of a large and growing catchment, and as the county town and sub-regional centre it will always be an important draw to its natural catchment.

“What is required is the right type of scheme to improve Northampton town centre as Milton Keynes and Leicester have demonstrated they can develop and improve, despite out of town retailing.

Arguably, the out of town retailing in Northampton helps to retain catchment expenditure in the areas which otherwise would go to Leicester or Milton Keynes’ out of town facilities.

Northampton town centre should be able to springboard from this platform.”

He added: “Rushden Lakes is well away from the core of the Northampton town centre catchment and of a character that will not directly compete with Northampton town centre.

“Kettering is a vibrant centre but has suffered from the corporate failure of TJ Hughes, which anchored the Newlands Shopping Centre.

“The Rushden Lakes proposals will not impact on the re-letting of this space or the current vibrancy of the town centre, and in any event there is no evidence that any of the retailers who will consider Rushden Lakes will consider Kettering as an alternative, either in existing retail facilities or in any other proposals that many come forward.

“Wellingboroough is similarly a vibrant town centre, albeit smaller than Kettering, but there does not appear to be any potential conflict from Rushden Lakes, despite its proximity in travel terms.

“I understand that Wellingborough Council is supportive of the Rushden Lakes proposal.

“Corby is some distance away and I would not expect the Rushden Lakes proposal to impact on Corby town centre, which also has its own out of town retail facility.”

Planning and development witness Colin Burnett has given evidence regarding retail planning policy.

He said the total floorspace of the Lakes would be the equivalent of 21 per cent of Northampton’s floor space, and he described the allegation by Mr Harris QC, for the Grovsenor Centre, that is was half the size of Northampton town centre as not a “fair comparison”.

A letter sent by Wellingborough Council leader, Cllr Paul Bell, to the inspector regarding the local authority’s support for the Rushden Lakes development has also been read out today.

Cllr Bell wrote: “Since the planning committee considered this matter a year ago support has strengthened, particularly from members of the public. The size of the retail units proposed would not be able to be accommodated in our town centre.”