Fresh calls to contact retail chains over 'jungle' Desborough factory site
Councillors have made fresh calls to consider building a retail unit on land where a derelict Desborough shoe factory sits.
The overgrown Lawrence site off Harborough Road has been empty since the 1990s and North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) have outlined plans to turn it into up to 43 social homes in a potential £9.5m scheme.
But with the town ever-growing, members of Desborough Town Council say housing is not the best option and that a mix of retail, commercial, community and other uses should be considered instead.
Supermarket giant Tesco was previously given permission to build a store on the site before the scheme collapsed in 2014.
Town council chairman, Cllr Phil Sawford, said: “The proper development of this site is vital to the future of Desborough. At the moment it is a jungle. That is 15 years after bold plans to invite a mixed development were invited by (the now defunct) Kettering Council.
“The town is crying out for facilities to meet the needs of the growing population. I believe NNC should strongly consider contacting retail chains to see if there is still interest in the site.
“NNC is a new body and this is an opportunity to bring fresh eyes to bear on the project. Social housing is needed in the town but there are better sites for it than this.
"If we lose this opportunity to create a community-friendly option for the town centre, Desborough will be the poorer for it.”
It's believed a covenant agreed between Kettering Council and the former site owners, the Co-op, is an obstacle to developing the site because it bans the sale of food. The exact sum of money to remove the covenant has not been disclosed but it is understood to be 'significant'.
Demolishing the factory buildings had been part of the approved Tesco plan.
Cllr Sawford said: “We need community facilities which could include retail and starter units for small businesses. Some housing could be included. But the factory buildings are not considered to have significant historical or architectural merit and could be demolished.”
The site had been bought by Kettering Council in 2004 but little progress was made in the 17 years until the authority was abolished.
Desborough Community Development Trust (DCDT) won a £10,000 grant to assess options for refurbishing the site as part of a revitalised town centre.
Their report suggested the factory building itself - and not the whole site - could be converted to a small workspace for small businesses, a museum/heritage centre, cafes and shops or a community space for hire.
In 2018 plans to develop the site suffered another setback when Kettering Council could no longer access funds it was banking on.
Desborough Town Council is now writing to NNC, asking the authority to widen the remit for the proposed consultation exercise on its housing scheme.
Cllr Alan Window said it's not a "proper consultation" if the only option is what is being proposed.
And Cllr Tim Healy said: “I remember voting in favour of the supermarket scheme for Desborough in a referendum several years ago.
“The town is now bigger and there are proposals for a further 1,000 homes on the northern and southern edges of town.
“It is vital that NNC considers community, retail and other uses for this site to breathe fresh life into the town centre. Restricting the consultation to the 43 homes project is not giving the people of the Desborough the opportunity to shape the facilities they deserve."
A project design consultation said construction on any housing scheme could potentially start by June 2022.
A spokesman for North Northamptonshire Council said: “The council is working hard to bring the Lawrence site back into use for the benefit of the local community.
“For more than 20 years the site has been derelict and over that time a variety of proposals have been suggested for it.
“These have included retail, commercial and community developments but unfortunately none have proved to be viable.
“The council’s current scheme involves the development of the site to provide 43 homes for affordable rent. Such homes are badly needed by local people with 53 households from Desborough alone on the Keyways housing register and looking for somewhere to live.
“The council has been consulting a range of stakeholders over the past six months and most have broadly supported the proposals. We will continue to consult the town council and local people as the scheme is progressed.”