What a Nerve – and – What Does It Really Mean?
Over the past few weeks there has been a number of articles in the Northampton Chronicle and Echo about the issue and ‘possible’ impact of the proposed Rushden Lakes Retail Development on the site of what used to be a dry run ski slope near Rushden.
First of all we had Legal and General saying it would impact on the future of the Northampton Town Centre Grosvenor extension and may threaten it, followed swiftly by a declaration from the Conservative Leader of the Borough Council that it wouldn’t be a threat and then almost immediately a joint statement saying the Grosvenor Centre re-development would definitely (possibly, probably) go ahead as planned.
So that was to all intents and purposes an end of the matter, the Grosvenor Development would be going ahead.
Of course the public are and justifiably so, especially when they read that the leader of the council says as he did recently in an interview that the new bus interchange and Greyfriars Bus Station are separate issues and not linked to each other so presumably also the Grosvenor extension is also not linked to the bus station, which of course it is.
We have since seen a concerted campaign expressing not only concerns about the Rushden Lakes development, and there is of course nothing wrong with that, but along with the concerns warnings that opposition to it may be taken to the courts.
The question is why does the Conservative administration at the Guildhall feel so threatened by a retail development 13 miles away and which at a time of rising unemployment and an economy that has not only stalled but gone backwards should they object to and not embrace the opportunity to bring jobs and over £50 million of investment into the County.
Surely if they have confidence in Northampton they wouldn’t be objecting, or is it that their confidence isn’t as strong as their marketing and P.R would have you believe.
An argument being put forward is that Northampton should have been considered as an alternative to Rushden and that Northampton Borough Council weren’t consulted from the start of the proposals.
It is the typical “we didn’t know” argument that cannot possibly be valid because the Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership, on which Cllr Tim Hadland, the Cabinet member for Regeneration is on the board.
In fact in the NEP Prospectus under the heading of ‘Northamptonshire the Place to Invest’ is Case Study number 9 that says of the Equilibrium Rushden Lakes proposal,
‘The site has outline planning consent for mixed use development, with a master plan for a 175 bed four star hotel, 51,835 sq ft of retail space, a marina for 100 boats and offices/business units from 1,000 sq ft up to bespoke buildings of 100,000 sq ft’
Interestingly NEP Board members also sit on the Board of the SEMLEP Northampton Waterside Enterprise Zone so of course everyone would have known about the Rushden proposals at a very early stage.
It can’t only be me that finds it ironic that the Rushden Lakes project is being promoted by the Northampton Enterprise Partnership which is funded by Northampton taxpayer’s and that some of the same people who sit on the board are at one and the same time opposing it?
It seems then that this is a David and Goliath situation with Rushden, (population 28,368) being put under pressure by Northampton Borough Council (population 217,000) to relinquish the opportunity that the Borough themselves are seeking to benefit from with the development of the Grosvenor Centre and Enterprise Zone.
Experience over years demonstrates that Legal and General object as a matter of course and policy, which is understandable as potential major investors in Northampton and as we have seen from ASDA proposals in support of the Saints, opposition to retail development at Sixfields, Barrack Road TESCO proposals etc it appears to be a policy that is successful.
What people in Northampton and I’m sure in Rushden are asking is what right has the Borough Council to object to the development in Rushden and does it mean that objections to development and regeneration projects in Towcester, Daventry, Kettering and Wellingborough are now going to follow?
Even more important to the hard pressed taxpayers of Northampton is how much will it cost them if they take their objections into the legal system?
There is another aspect to this whole issue, which is that Northampton Borough Council in showing their commitment to opposing a retail development proposal 13 miles away as a major threat to the Northampton Town Centre Regeneration could clearly not support any retail development within the Borough Boundary outside of the Town Centre.
It means that support for the ASDA store in St James and any development at Sixfield has to be reversed if they are to stick to the same policy and de facto we will now see a return to the Town Centre First Policy of the Liberal Democrats which was a major criticism of the previous administration.
One other question that has been asked is whether the objections are simply a means of ‘preparing an excuse’ in the event that the Grosvenor Centre doesn’t go ahead or in the event of a backlash from the public over a failure to support the Saints and Cobblers as promised.
I continue to be committed to the regeneration and redevelopment of Northampton, not only the Town Centre but the whole of the Borough, to raise education standards and aspirations, bringing investment and employment and improving the environment and housing, but we can’t and shouldn’t take the view that everything else should be opposed.
It is a view I think will be held by many people across Northampton, a view that the Borough Council administration should be concentrating on delivering what is needed for the people of Northampton not telling other authorities what they should be doing.
I think the administration have a nerve to object to Rushden for seeking to improve the lives of the people who live in their area, and believe that the true meaning for the NBC approach isn’t really clear.
Far be it from me to advise the people of Rushden and their Councillors how to respond to Northampton but it is fair to say a short and to the point response would be understandable.