THE OPENING salvos of the local elections were fired at the Guildhall, last night, with the battle lines drawn over how Northampton should be regenerated.
During a tense meeting of the borough council, the leader of the opposition, Councillor David Palethorpe (Con, Billing) and the council’s cabinet member for regeneration, Councillor Richard Church (Lib Dem, Kingthsorpe) clashed a number of times on whether the town centre should be protected from out-of-town developments or retail schemes such as those planned by Asda next to Franklin’s Gardens should be encouraged.
In an attack on the Liberal Democrat leaderships of the council’s town-centre first policy, Councillor Palethorpe said: “A town-centre-first policy to the exclusion of everything else just turns away investment and employment. We should say ‘Northampton is open for business’.
“I can’t see any reason why we can’t have progress out-of-town as well as the town centre regeneration.”
In response, Councillor Church said out-of-town expansion plans such as those suggested by Tesco, the Saints and the Cobblers must be judged to see if they would harm the town.
He said: “We’re not pursuing the town-centre-first policy to the exclusion of everything else.
“We’ll support development outside the town centre if we can be satisfied it will not impact on the vitality of the town centre.
“That’s national policy and it’s a key priority of this council to protect jobs and attract investment to the town, and we’ll continue to do that.
“The Conservatives are saying the best interest of Northampton is to support out-of-town development and we’ll see how many people agree with that in the election in May.”
As the row intensified, Councillor Palethorpe added: “It should be a local choice about how we develop our town, not a diktat from Parliament and if that puts me at odds with the Government that’s what we’ll do. We’ll support what’s best for Northampton.”
The row suggests long-running argument over redevelopment plans at Sixfields, Franklin’s Gardens and the Grosvenor Centre are likely to be key in the build-up to the May 5 election.
A display of the latest plans for the Grosvenor Centre regeneration will be at the centre on Friday and Saturday.