The firm behind a shopping complex, which critics claim could harm Northampton retailers, has unveiled plans for a 200-acre nature reserve.
The controversial Rushden Lakes leisure and retail park development has been heavily criticised by some local authorities who fear it will take vital footfall away from town centres in the county.
The Skew Bridge site, on the edge of Rushden, is made up of more than 250 acres, of which 32 acres will be the new leisure, tourism and retail development.
LXB Properties, which owns the land, has confirmed that 200 acres of lakes and meadows will be opened to the public as a visitor attraction. It would be managed by the Wildlife Trust if it gets planning permission from East Northamptonshire Council for the wider scheme.
The nature conservation site has become a target for illegal off-road vehicles in recent years, but LXB has been in discussions with Natural England since buying the land for about £5m last year, with a view to restoring the nature value of the site and opening it to the public.
Development director at LXB, Jon McCarthy, said: “We are committed to funding £300,000 of paths for the new reserve, and a further £300,000 for a fantastic sustainable visitor centre.”
The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire is also in discussions with LXB about taking space in a new visitors’ centre which aims to enhance the visitor experience of the proposed development.
Chairman Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey said: “If we can successfully fund the costs of the visitors’ centre, this will be an important opportunity.”
THE plans for Rushden Lakes have been criticised by borough councillors in Northampton.
Developers said the plan would create 1,500 jobs, but Councillor Tim Hadland (Con, Old Duston) said: “We have a duty to protect and nurture our town centre.” Objections have also been raised by councillors from Corby and Kettering.
Councillor Hadland said: “After studying the size and location of the proposals and the potential impact on Northampton and other town centres, the committee has raised a number of strong objections.
“The proposals appear to conflict with national planning policy and could jeopardise jobs and investment in Northampton.”