Why all Northamptonshire’s councils should be supporting Rushden Lakes

Rushden Lakes is a jewel in Northamptonshire's economic crown
Rushden Lakes is a jewel in Northamptonshire's economic crown

Rushden Lakes has had a hugely positive effect on Northamptonshire’s economy.

In an era when people are spending more and more money online, the retail and leisure scheme has attracted millions of visitors in its first year of trading.

Many neighbouring councils were opposed to its creation but they lost their argument following a public inquiry back in 2013.

Now the same scenario is being played out all over again.

Corby, Kettering and Northampton have all signalled their intent to object to plans to expand Rushden Lakes, with Wellingborough Council considering joining the protest too this time.

Their concerns are rooted in the fact that the expansion plans contain a move towards smaller shop units, which the councils say places Rushden Lakes in direct competition with their own town centres.

So far, so familiar.

While it is true that Rushden Lakes has attracted shoppers from all over the county and beyond, it is not the high streets of Corby, Kettering, Northampton and Wellingborough which are missing out as a result.

If you are having a day out at Rushden Lakes, you are doing so instead of going to Milton Keynes, or Leicester, or Peterborough.

Those big shopping destinations are the ones losing out to the pull of Rushden Lakes.

To say that the creation of independent shops at Rushden Lakes will harm town centres makes no sense.

By their very nature such shops will all be selling individual items.

There is no reason why, say, a homeware boutique could not be successful in Kettering just because a different homeware boutique had opened at Rushden Lakes.

If a shop is selling enough of what people want, it will thrive – it’s as simple as that.

It also makes no sense to object on competition grounds.

Should the people of Corby been denied their own cinema on the grounds that it would be competing with the Odeon in Kettering?

Should Wellingborough’s Marks & Spencer food hall have been refused permission in case it lured people from the Kettering store?

Follow that argument to its logical conclusion and no new developments would ever take place.

It is interesting to wonder what would have happened had the councils of Corby, East Northants, Kettering and Wellingborough already been amalgamated into a single North Northamptonshire authority before Rushden Lakes came along.

Many existing councillors will undoubtedly end up sitting on the new unitary authority come 2020 – and Rushden Lakes will be one of the jewels in its crown.

It’s short-sighted of them to give it anything less than their wholehearted support.