Day four of the Rushden Lakes inquiry

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The fourth day of the Rushden Lakes planning inquiry has heard from local politicians.

The 12-day inquiry is being held at East Northamptonshire Council’s Thrapston headquarters to hear arguments both for and against the proposed £50m Rushden Lakes retail and leisure development for Skew Bridge.

Kettering MP Philip Hollobone was the first to have his say on the Rushden Lakes development this morning (Friday, June 28).

He said Kettering Council’s agenda for growth includes aspirations to provide a better offer in the town centre, better education and training offers and better employment opportunities.

He said: “Kettering is the largest of the north Northamptonshire towns. Kettering also has the largest town centre.

“It is a short sighted and inappropriate proposal seeking to take trade away from town centres.

“On behalf of residents of the town, I’m fully in support of the Government in its support of town centres.”

It was then the turn of Andy Sawford, MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, who spoke in favour of the proposed development.

He said: “I am a long standing resident of this area. I remember the former facilities on this site.

“I have met with people speaking for and against this application. Most importantly of all, I have talked to local people about this matter - across the whole of my constituency.

“I have come to the conclusion that Rushden Lakes is in the best interest of people in my constituency.

“It will deliver jobs. It will generate more than 1,500 jobs.

“The East Northamptonshire area is struggling to find its way after the decline of the shoe industry.

“The wider benefits of this scheme, including the leisure facilities, will also provide jobs.

“I think the people of East Northamptonshire have a right to enjoy a better retail and leisure offer.

“This development will keep local spending in the local area.

“I don’t consider that no change would be an attractive option. This site has fallen badly into disrepair.

“I do find it easy to understand why there’s real interest in Rushden Lakes. I have considered the impact on other Northamptonshire towns, in particular Corby. I have had to weigh the interest very carefully and I have been very anxious to understand the reasons why Corby Council opposed the scheme. I have not found any opposition from local residents.

“A total of 0.4 per cent of trade in Corby comes from Rushden. For me, the more serious argument is the additional competition from retailer housed by the development.

“But I do believe that regardless of Rushden Lakes, the investment opportunities remain very strong.

“I think people from Irthlingborough, Raunds, Oundle and Thrapston are more likely to use Rushden Lakes than their present pattern of going to Milton Keynes or Peterborough, so I think it would be positive for the area’s economy.

“I have formed a very strong view that this is a good thing for the area.”

East Northamptonshire councillor Glen Harwood said the development would “reverse the decline of some of our towns, particularly Rushden”.

He said: “We are committed to doing the best we can for our residents.

“In 2000, Rushden has a number of factories and workshops associated with the shoe and boot industry, which was by far the largest employer. Today there are only four boot and shoe companies operating in Rushden.

“Corby suffered similarly with the demise of the steel industry, but it has received funding from the Government and from Europe.

“Despite being in the same situation, Rushen has seen nothing like the same level of funding.

“Having an employer with the potential to provide 2,000 jobs, including apprenticeships, on the door step of a growth town cannot be ignored.

“The Rushden Chamber of Commerce and the Rushden High Street business leaders are very supportive. Most see that it will improve footfall.

“I have been asked by many residents how other local councils can have such a say on this.

“I am often asked why the shopping needs of East Northamptonshire residents have to be met outside of the district.

“The application site is currently an eyesore and is subject to regular anti-social behaviour and very regularly suffers from flytipping . These proposals will bring new life to it.”

Derek Clark, an East Midlands MEP who lives in Northampton, said he decided to speak at the inquiry after learning about the opposition from Northampton Borough Council to the proposed development.

He said: “I thought to myself, what has it got to do with Northampton Borough Council? How many people from Northampton are going to go to do their shopping at Rushden Lakes. I certainly won’t.

“It will be Northampton’s own fault if after all these years, it has not seen fit to see it its own resources and develop. It’s the fault of the local council, it isn’t the fault of those who wish to develop Rushden Lakes, so I give my full support to Rushden Lakes.”

Wellingborough Councillor Thomas Pursglove, who is also the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Corby & East Northamptonshire, said: The people of East Northamptonshire have made their opinion clear, and I have never known one single issue to attract such widespread support. That is why I am here today – to reflect that local feeling.

“It would be remiss of me, in opening my remarks, not to mention the terrific local campaign for Rushden Lakes and congratulate those who have been so actively

involved in it.

Their efforts really have been quite remarkable and I’m sure that their families are looking forward to seeing them once this is all over; T-Shirts and all!

“I have knocked on many doors in East Northamptonshire in the last 12 months, and the message has been clear. Local people want Rushden Lakes to deliver the jobs, leisure facilities and retail choice that it promises.

“As I say, that is why I am here today, to urge you, Mr Inspector, to listen to the will of the

people and allow this scheme to proceed.

“I have lived in Northamptonshire all my life and speak as both a Wellingborough councillor and as the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Corby and East Northamptonshire.

“Be in no doubt, the people of Wellingborough are fully behind this development. There is enormous local backing for this scheme, not least because people are sick and tired of getting in their cars and driving for half an hour or more simply to go shopping on a Saturday afternoon.

“This need will only grow, given the significant housing growth anticipated in the area in the years ahead – including at Wellingborough East; a huge scheme with planning permission, which is a stone’s throw from the Rushden Lakes site.

“I’m often asked why should local people have

to take new housing developments, many of which were imposed in the past against their will, without the retail and leisure facilities they need.

“To deny local people of this development would, quite frankly, be the thin end of the wedge and exacerbate the perception that it is all ‘stick’ and no ‘carrot’.

“The support of Wellingborough is well-known, but what has been less well publicised is the great benefits Rushden Lakes will have for people living in rural East Northamptonshire.

“For many years, investment has been focused on the urban centres in the north and west of the county, but it is these rural communities who are among those who have suffered most since the decline of the manufacturing industry in this county – indeed, my own grandfather was employed for many years in the shoe trade.

It is they who have much to gain from the positive impact this scheme will have on the local economy. And, not just from the 2,000 jobs it will create, but from the wider benefit of keeping local spending local.

“What is unique about this scheme, and what has impressed me personally, is that visitors will not have to spend a single penny in the shops or restaurants to enjoy it. People will be able to enjoy walks and bicycle rides in a scenic place that has until now been blighted and forgotten. “This is, after all, a brownfield site which was once at the heart of the community and which has so much potential for the future.

“What is more, as has been mentioned, the boathouse will be run by a successful local company in the form of Canoe 2, who will be obliged to open the facility up to our young people free of charge through community groups including the Sea Cadets and Scouts Association; something I very much welcome.

“In essence, Rushden Lakes will be the gateway to the Nene Valley, encouraging people to explore further this picturesque part of the world. It has the potential to give our tourism, leisure and hospitality industries a very welcome boost.

“Some would say that, as the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Corby and East Northamptonshire, it would be foolish of me to take up an unpopular cause. But, in my experience on the doorstep, the people of Corby do not feel threatened by Rushden Lakes; far from it.

“There is absolutely no widespread opposition from local people, only the seemingly misguided local authority in thrall to developers whose only interest is in protecting their assets.

“If anything, people in Corby, like those in Northampton, Bedford and Kettering, welcome the opportunity for new jobs within a reasonable travelling time. At a time when the Government’s key priority is to deliver economic growth and jobs, it would be foolish to slam the door shut on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To my mind, we owe it to people to bring forward jobs wherever possible. This must be an imperative at this time.

“Furthermore, in reality, neither the local authority in Corby, nor the commercial interests in the town, have any reason to feel threatened by Rushden Lakes. It appears, on the face of it, that commercial interests in

“Corby have pushed the local council to oppose this development. I suspect the council, with its disastrous record of mismanagement in attempting to deliver a series of high-profile regeneration projects over the last few years, recognises the minimal threat posed to the town by this new development. So, whilst welcoming the various projects of recent years in Corby, I am extremely concerned about the way they have been handled.

“However, desperate to attract further new investment in the shadow of the revelations of recent weeks, it is perhaps understandable why the local authority have put their better judgement to one side and cowed to these wishes.

“Even in these difficult economic times, it is rare that employment and development is welcomed – in fact, as a local councillor, I know that on most occasions, the opposite is the case. It is even more bizarre for there to be such widespread support, and for the development to be at risk.

“To my mind, and those of the majority of local people, it is only right and proper that, for once, investment is allowed to go ahead in East Northamptonshire and the people see the benefit of this vital scheme.

“Indeed, we all know that the reality is, as expressed so eloquently by Councillor David Mackintosh, the Leader of Northampton Borough Council, and I quote: “I don’t think this is something that will derail the redevelopment of the Grosvenor Centre.... ...anyone who lives in Northampton knows a development in Rushden will not have an impact on where they go shopping.”

Planning consultant James Wilson, the former head of planning and development at Wellingborough Council, also gave evidence today.

He said Rushden Lakes would lead to a £15million growth for the construction industry, £7million of which would be retained in Northamptonshire.

He also said he expected it to provide a £43.6million boost to the local retail industry.