The councillor responsible for Kettering town centre’s regeneration says the town should have nothing to fear from Rushden Lakes.
With the multi-million-pound development set to open next year (albeit later than expected), there are fears Kettering’s town centre could get left behind.
It may not have as many big headline-grabbing names like its out-of-town rival - although H&M is due to open on Thursday – but the council’s regeneration porfolio holder, Cllr Mark Dearing, says they’re not worried by the development.
Cllr Dearing walked around the town with the Northants Telegraph to discuss the council’s plans and how it intends to make sure people continue to shop there.
He says Rushden Lakes, which is scheduled to open next year, is completely different and is confident shoppers will still continue to help Kettering thrive.
He said: “I don’t think we’re worried by Rushden Lakes.
“It’s another place for people to go but you’ve still got to travel there.
“The shops here are quite different to what will go there.
“I wouldn’t say we’re kind of niche but when you look at what’s going into The Yards, they’re very niche individual shops.
“For us it’s working with places like The Yards to bring in those places you wouldn’t find at Rushden Lakes.
“The long-term vision is to have a thriving town centre.”
The Yards opened just over a year ago and has already seen a number of stores outgrow the development to move into town centre units.
Cllr Dearing says this proves it is working, and the council wants to expand it even further.
He said: “The Yards is really popular but we’re now working with the owner to market it more around the town so we can get the people up here.
“The idea of The Yards is that it’s almost like an incubator, so people will take spaces in there and I think we’ve had four or five who have started in there and then moved out into an empty shop.
“The longer term vision is to take it parallel with the main street and take it right through.
“We want to expand that so that we’ve got more incubator units and more people. It’s something that’s different and it brings the people in.
“There’s no particular timescale but it’s all to do with who owns what land.”
Much of Cllr Dearing and the council’s vision rests on increasing town centre footfall.
And he says the authority is looking to put on a whole host of events and markets to bring people in to the town.
He said: “Part of what we’re looking to do as a council is bring more events in, we want to have a couple of different types of markets and perhaps increase the markets themselves.
“That’s been really successful since the council took back the markets and will continue to increase.
“We’re looking to introduce one or two different types of markets so we can have specific days.
“For next year the plans are to have more activity days and we’re looking to see how we can plan that in with holidays.
“I have a personal view that we can look at things like Wimbledon, it’s a fortnight of tennis, can we do something that’s going to bring the children in?
“From a town perspective I think we’re doing a good job but we’re having to ramp it up and we want to be in a position where we’ve got a lot more people coming in for the shops.
“If there isn’t the stuff for them here then they aren’t going to come.”
The council has drawn heavy criticism on social media for the number of ‘pound shops’ and charity shops, with many people saying there isn’t enough variety.
Cllr Dearing says people must understand that it isn’t down to the council who goes where, especially when many of the units are privately owned.
He said: “We all know that the internet is getting bigger and bigger and that’s what a lot of people are doing but when you look at the type of people coming now, we are getting younger people back into the town centre and I think a lot of that is down to coffee shops and so on.
“I know people stand here and say there’s too many phone shops and too many charity shops but actually, if that’s the demand that’s what’s going to come.
“If we said no to everything, we wouldn’t have a town centre.
“The shops are privately owned, it’s not for a council to say who can go where and who can’t.
“The empty shops in Kettering at the moment percentage-wise are a lot less than they are nationally and that’s a good thing.
“Some of the shops are owned by the council but not all of them so one of the things we want to look at is how to improve the whole area.
“It’s really important that we all work together to make sure that the town centre does continue to thrive.”