Day six of the Rushden Lakes planning inquiry heard evidence from a planning consultant and planning policy manager for Northampton Borough Council and a development officer for Kettering Council.
Matt Whiteley, who advises Northampton Borough Council on planning regulation and development, alleged Rushden Lakes would take trade away from Northampton and prevent the future redevelopment of the Grosvenor Centre.
He said some retailers are attracted to the lower rental costs and service charges afforded by out of town retail centres compared to town centres.
During cross examination of evidence given by Mr Whiteley, it was heard that only the Car Phone Warehouse had expressed an interest in opening stores in both Northampton and Rushden Lakes.
It was also heard that despite his claim retailers would chose the Lakes over Northampton, Next plans to expand its Riverside store into the next door unit previously occupied by JJB Sports and move into a bigger unit in Northampton, at the same time being touted to take a Rushden Lakes anchor store.
Paul Lewin, planning policy and conservation manager at Northampton Borough Council, said that Rushden Lakes was a “real threat to Northampton town centre and the substantial public and private investment made to the deliver the town centre vision” for Northampton.
He also said Rushden was not big enough to accommodate the retail and leisure development: “The scale of this proposed development is well in excess of a town like Rushden.”
Mr Lewin spoke about the threat the scheme would pose to the proposed re-development of the Grosvenor Centre, and the inquiry was read a letter from Cllr David Mackintosh, leader of Northampton Borough Council, in which he stated Rushden Lakes would make plans to re-develop the Grosvenor Centre “significantly harder”.
But Mr Lewin said he didn’t think it was reasonable to assume that the expansion of the Grosvenor Centre would be able to go ahead at all if Rushden Lakes was given planning permission and Legal and General pulled out.
He also said: “It would then be more difficult for the council to turn down out of town developments for Northampton.
“Legal and General has said it will walk away if Rushden Lakes is approved.”
Hr Lewin was also asked why Northamptonshire County Council and the West Northamptonshire Joint Planning unit has not opposed Rushden being labelled as a growth town in new planning policy framework for the north of the county.
He said there was a difference in their understanding of the term ‘growth town’.
“We don’t really feel any threat from Wellingborough, Kettering or Corby. We see them as part of a package of making Northamptonshire attractive to investors,” he said.
“I have no problem with Rushden being more attractive for its residents.”
Susan Garbutt, senior development officer at Kettering Council, refuted earlier evidence that the current planning policy for the north of the county was out of date, and the application does not follow the policy’s preference for town centre development.
She said: “I consider the site to be out of town and disconnected by the A45.
“In my view, the core strategy is up to date and should be given full weight. The plan was inspected and found to be sound five years ago. It’s too early to say that it’s failed.
“Considerable development has come forward, and is coming forward in the growth towns.”