Controversial £50m shopping development approved

An artist's impression of Rushden Lakes
An artist's impression of Rushden Lakes

East Northamptonshire Council has granted planning permission for the £50m shopping and leisure Rushden Lakes development.

An extraordinary meeting of the local authority’s development control committee took place at the council’s Thrapston headquarters last night.

Members voted unanimously to grant planning permission for the retail application.

The project, to be built on the site of the old Skew Bridge Country Club and dry ski slope on the edge of Rushden, includes retail units, restaurants and a lakeside visitor centre, along with a hotel, leisure club and boat house.

LXB Retail Properties, the company behind the proposed development, bought the Skew Bridge for almost £5m in 2010.

Company official say the lakes plan would provide up to 2,000 jobs for the area. A total of 1,350 of those would be directly available at the development, while the rest would be the result of the knock-on affect the development would have on the area in terms of investment.

Announcing plans to build the development attracted objections from Northampton, Corby, Kettering and Bedford borough councils, who all said it would damage their own town centres and potential for future investment.

Wellingborough Council did not oppose the scheme and it was supported by Rushden and Higham Ferrers town councils.

Members of the committee all spoke in favour of the scheme before granting permission.

Cllr Andy Mercer said it was the biggest application to come before the council during his time as a member of the local authority.

Cllr Robin Underwood said: “The benefits are considered to be substantial. Don’t let this great opportunity for Rushden and the surrounding areas fail this time.”

Cllr Bob Nightingale, who represents Irthlingborough and is governor at two schools in the town, said it’s what the young people want. He said: “This is the chief topic of conversation for most of the young people I meet.”

Glenn Harwood said he understood the concerns of the opposing local authorities, but their objections came across as “sour grapes”.

He said: “I personally can’t see a great deal of substance in the vast majority – not all – of their objections.”

Speaking after the meeting, Jon McCarthy development director at LXB, said he was “highly delighted” and he hoped building work could start on the site by summer 2013.

He said: “The meeting was very positive but also balanced. It was clear that members have read the objections and weighted up the pros and cons.

“What came through is that this is a victory for East Northamptonshire, not just for Rushden.”

The application will now be looked at by the Secretary of State, which is standard with applications of this size, who will decide if a Government planning inspector should have the final decision on whether to let the development go ahead, or to rubber stamp East Northamptonshire Council’s decision.

Cllr Steven North, leader of East Northamptonshire Council, said: “We welcome this exciting new development, which will bring new jobs to the area and regenerate a site that has become run down and frankly an eyesore. It has the potential to increase spending in the district and means that local people would have a better retail offer on their doorstep.

“The new development will complement rather than compete with the High Street, and developer contributions would help maximise opportunities for it to benefit from the scheme.

“The leisure opportunities complement the Nene Valley project that encourages people to make the most of the river and help to give better access through a footbridge and cycleway across the A45.

“Under planning rules the application will still need to be referred to the Secretary of State, so we still need to wait 21 days to see whether the council’s decision is acceptable. However we are hopeful this will be the case, particularly as local people have been overwhelmingly in favour of this project.”

The scheme also includes plans for £2.5m of improvements to the Skew Bridge roundabout and a £1m footbridge over the A45.

Cash would be spent on providing buses to the site and LXB has pledged a six-figure sum to enable East Northamptonshire Council to employ a Rushden town centre manager.