Rushden Lakes has welcomed its first visitors nearly a decade since campaigns to secure the development started.
Visitors, including members of the ‘Yes to Rushden Lakes’ group, local councillors and businesses who have championed Rushden Lakes throughout its development, were given a sneak preview of the completed first phase by The Crown Estate and LXB yesterday (Thursday).
Among those getting an early view of Northamptonshire’s new shopping and leisure destination were members of East Northamptonshire Council, including its leader Cllr Steven North and deputy leader Cllr Glenn Harwood MBE.
Also in attendance were ‘Yes to Rushden Lakes’ campaigners Cllr Andy Mercer, Cllr Gill Mercer and Helen Bathurst.
Their campaign to bring the new retail and leisure destination to Northamptonshire made Rushden Lakes one of the most positively supported planning applications ever, with more than a thousand letters of support sent to the Secretary of State.
In its first phase, the 230,000 sq ft centre is bringing 33 retailers to Rushden as well as eight lakeside restaurants and cafés.
The first Rushden Lakes stores will open their doors on Friday (July 28), with Marks & Spencer, New Look, H&M and Joules among those opening.
Next Friday will also see the opening of The Nene Wetlands Visitor Centre from The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire and Canoe2.
The new home for Canoe2, The Boathouse, will not only offer boat hire on the lake and adventure trips across the River Nene, but will also be the company’s first full physical retail store.
The Nene Wetlands Visitor Centre is the first visitor centre in the region for The Wildlife Trust BCN and will act as the gateway to the 1km nature walk and interactive sculpture trail around Skew Bridge Lake.
The Wildlife Trust BCN is also launching an interactive wildlife discovery area, which reflects the area’s industrial heritage, as well as the wooden constructions of an otter holt and heronry for families to explore.
Retailers will continue to open throughout the summer, with the first phase fully open by late September, when visitors will be treated to a weekend of fun and activities to celebrate.
Leader of East Northants Council Cllr Steven North said: “This is a great moment for East Northamptonshire with the imminent opening of the most highly anticipated retail and leisure destination of 2017.
“We’re very excited to see people enjoying the first-class line up of retail, dining and leisure offers in such a beautiful setting.
“It has taken a tremendous amount of work to get to this point and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported this development.
“It is wonderful to see the vision become a reality.”
Jon McCarthy of LXB, the developers behind the scheme, said: “Rushden Lakes exists due to a lot of people’s hard work, dedication and belief.
“Local stakeholders, councillors and officers in East Northants, Wellingborough, Rushden and Higham Ferrers have shown vision and leadership.
“This development however now belongs to the people of Rushden who spoke so unanimously to the Government in saying ‘yes to Rushden Lakes’ all those years ago.”
Alison Nimmo, chief executive of The Crown Estate, said: “As someone who has spent their career building new places, it takes something really special to amaze me and Rushden Lakes does exactly that.
“It is a destination like no other and would not have been realised without the hard work and dedication of many of those who joined us on Thursday.”
Brian Eversham, chief executive of the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, said: “We are thrilled to be opening the doors to our first visitor centre, heralding the gateway to our newly created Nene Wetlands nature reserve – an amalgam of existing reserves plus three further areas which now link together to form a comprehensive wetlands site.
“For many visitors to the Rushden Lakes retail centre a walk around Skew Bridge Lake and the newly installed sculpture trail will be their first introduction to the stunning landscapes and wildlife of the Nene Valley and we hope that many of them will go on to explore other parts of the Nene Wetlands reserve.
“From the outset working with developers, contractors, environmental consultants and architects plus all our new retail neighbours has proved an eventful and enjoyable journey resulting in some strong and fruitful partnerships moving into the future.”