Rushden Lakes Gets Green Light Amid Political Skirmish

After years of planning the Rusden Lakes development has been approved by Secretary of State Eric Pickles.

Located off the A45 near Rushden, the site was referred to by Councillor Steven North as ‘a blot on the landscape’. It will soon be home to 465,000 square feet of mixed-use retail and leisure facilities with retail units across three terraces, as well as restaurants, a leisure club, and a hotel.

In October 2012, East Northamptonshire councillors voted unanimously in favour of the developments. Cllr Steven North, leader of the ENC said: ‘The leisure opportunities will add to 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.’ It is estimated that the combined leisure, tourism and retail on the site will attract over three million visitors annually.

The site, alongside the A45 and opposite Waitrose, Wickes and Lidl, extends to 244 acres, with 31 for development. LXB Properties, who made the purchase in 2011, spent £4.525m on the land, much of which cannot be developed because of its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The SSSI will be integrated with the retail scheme. The site will include a visitors’ centre, a marina, and a boathouse. LXB is currently in discussion with the Wildlife Trust in the hope that they can take on the management of the SSSI in the future.

Marks and Spencer have already agreed to be an anchor store, and discussions are on-going with other retailers. The development is set to create over 2,000 new direct and indirect jobs.
The green light was granted largely in response to the huge amount of local campaigning in favour of the development. The conservative MP for Wellingborouh and Rushden, Peter Bone, praised the ‘Yes to Rushden Lakes’ campaign, in particular, for taking action. The scheme also received thousands of letters in support.

Peter Bone accused the former Labour government of allowing the derelict site to stagnate. He said that the Rushden Lakes development is ‘local evidence that the Prime Minister’s long term economic plan is working’.

Andy Sawford, Corby and East Northants Labour MP, has also been in favour of the new plans, although he is concerned that the new retail opportunities at Rushden Lakes are not detrimental to local high streets. He said: ‘I have always been mindful that the Rushden Lakes development will bring challenges to existing town centres across the county but it would not have been right to block this important opportunity for people in East Northamptonshire. I want all our town centres to succeed in the five
towns that I represent and I will do my best to support them in the future.’

Wellingborough and Rushden’s Labour candidate Richard Carvie harbours the same concern about local high streets: ‘While this is great news for jobs and investment, we now need to ensure that there is a proper plan in place for regenerating our high streets and ensuring that our town centres survive and thrive.’
Peter Bone, however, is sure that Rushden Lakes ‘will complement rather than compete with the High Street’. He claimed, ‘many local retailers are keen to see this happen’.

With the plans finally confirmed, MPs whose constituencies will be affected clashed during an adjournment debate in the House of Commons about Rushden Lakes. Peter Bone accused Andy Sawford of ‘sitting on the fence’ over the development for far too long. He said: ‘I will tell the honourable gentleman this: he should be at Kettering hospital getting the splinters taken out of his backside for sitting on the fence for so long over this matter.’

In a bid to claim credit for the success of the plans, both MPs said that they have supported the scheme from the start. However, Mr Bone claimed that he had been an early champion of the plans, while Mr Sawford, he said, had only just begun to support it. Mr Sawford disputed this.

Mr Sawford said he had been a supporter of the plans for a long time. He felt particularly aggrieved when the planning minister Nick Boles went to Rushden Lakes last week to announce the decision but didn’t tell the Corby MP about the visit or give him advance notice of the decision.

In a heated exchange during the debate, Mr Sawford was repeatedly ignored and not allowed to speak until the deputy speaker intervened, telling Mr Bone to temper his language.

Grantham and Stamford MP Nick Boles later confirmed that he had received letters of support from Mr Sawford. Despite both parties being united in support of the plans, Mr Bone is keen to appear to have been at the forefront of the scheme.

Plans are currently in progress to enable work to start on the site in the early part of 2015. Not only will these developments bring new jobs to the youth of the local area, they will also improve the retail and tourist industry in the surrounding towns.

By Thomas Bailey