Rushden Lakes – Conservative Battle Lines are established
With the impending and well publicised ‘independent enquiry’ into the Rushden Lakes project due to start on the 25th June the battle lines between the different Conservative groups have now been well and truly drawn up.
On one side are the Leaders of the Rushden, Irthlingborough, Higham Ferrers and Wellingborough Councils and on the other side the Leadership of Northampton Borough Council.
It is understandable that the Leader of Wellingborough Council, Cllr Paul Bell is concerned about the impact on his and the surrounding area if the Secretary of State turns the development down.
It is something he makes clear in his statement when he says “we have agreed unanimous, cross party support for the Rushden Lakes project. When this support was agreed at a meeting of the council in April, we noted that roughly 2,500 jobs would be created and that the project would make a significant contribution to the economic development of the Wellingborough area”
It is clear that the need for employment and the regeneration of the area is a major priority and especially in the current economic situation.
What they haven’t said but which will undoubtedly be brought up at the investigation is the support that the proposed development received from the Prime Minister last year when in answer to a question from the local MP Peter Bone he said it was an excellent demonstration of the Government’s commitment to creating employment.
The level of public support for and against the project may well be the deciding factor and is something that Peter Bone MP has stressed when he recently said that “I have never had a single issue that has attracted so much support. I have had thousands of people write to me and only three objected”
Mr Bone will undoubtedly provide the letters he has received as evidence to the enquiry and I’d expect the letters the Northampton Borough Council have received supporting their opposition to Rushden Lakes to also be produced.
It may also be raised that as I have written about before, the Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership is actually promoting and supporting the Rushden Lakes development and that the board of the NEP has Borough Council representation on it.
On the other side of course is the Leader of the Borough Council who has made it clear he is opposed to the development on the grounds that “it will have a serious impact on the regeneration of Northampton town centre” and in particular as has been well documented may well threaten the Grosvenor Centre redevelopment.
There is no doubt that both sides feel that their arguments are valid and whatever the outcome one of them will be disappointed which could well lead to a countywide political civil war between opposing Conservative groups fuelled by recriminations and bitterness.
Northampton Labour could well just sit back and wait for the battle to commence and make political capital out of the inevitable fallout from the eventual decision whether to progress or reject the Rushden Lakes project.
Instead of course what the recent press release from Northampton Labour has demonstrated is that along with Corby Labour they believe the Rushden Lakes development would seriously damage the regeneration and development plans for Northampton and Corby.
From the Northampton perspective if it goes ahead and Legal and General decides the Grosvenor Centre is no longer an economically viable and cancels the £250m project, including the demolition of the Greyfriars Bus Station the future of the Town Centre will be in serious doubt.
An unintended outcome of the opposition to the ‘out of town’ retail development by Northampton Borough Council may well be that it sets a precedent that town centre businesses and potential investors such as Legal and General may use to oppose other ‘out of town’ retail developments in support of Sixfields/Cobblers and the Saints.
It is a complex issue which has unfortunately been fought out by some but not all of the Conservative political leaders in the media with knee jerk reactions and an obsession with having sound bites in the media.
The people who will really be the winners, I’d there are any, will be the Legal Profession.
There is no doubt that the opposing sides will have employed a highly
qualified lawyer, at great expense to the taxpayer, to put their case at the development enquiry, though surprisingly if they have they haven’t admitted it.
The enquiry decision will be announced in November and if the Rushden Lakes project is given the go ahead work will start on site in early 2014.
We can only wait and see what the eventual impact will be on Northampton.