Rushden Lakes Inquiry – Who Knew What?

What will be the real impact of Rushden Lakes?
What will the real impact of Rushden Lakes decision be?

Rushden Lakes Inquiry continues to raise questions.

At the end of week one and as we enter week two of the Rushden Lakes independent planning inquiry I think it is time to update on my previous blogs on the subject.

Over the past two years questions have been constantly raised about the progress, or in reality the lack of progress of the Grosvenor Centre development on which the Conservative administration at the Borough Council have remained ominously silent.

The first few days of the public inquiry into the Rushden Lakes development has already shown why they have refused to discuss the issue and perhaps why it has been deliberately left out of the Conservative Cabinets reports to full council.

Perhaps we need to look at what has been said prior to the public inquiry that will decide the future of the proposed Rushden Lakes development.

I don’t think it is going too far to say that following the briefing to all Borough Council Councillors by Legal and General on the 14th May 2012 where we were told the redevelopment of the Grosvenor Centre would definitely go ahead confidence was high.

As we now know it only took a fortnight for Legal and General to do an about turn and stop all work on developing the plans which raised a number of questions the main one being – Why and What had changes in two weeks?

The reasons given by Legal and General were clear and unambiguous, that there were concerns that is was no longer economically viable and perhaps more telling that they were disappointed in not “receiving political support from the Borough Council Conservative administration”.

It was a charge that was confirmed by the Leader of the Council when he said on the local BBC radio the

“He was very frustrated and will be demanding an urgent meeting with Legal and General to find out what is going on”‘ and

“It is a decision taken by Legal and General that has let Northampton down, and which we didn’t know about”.

If they had been giving support to Legal and General surely they would have known that there was a major problem at the May 14th briefing?

It was understandable for Simon Russian from Legal and General to respond to the criticism by saying it was wrong for the Conservative Leader to point the finger and blame everything on Legal and General.

Fortunately the senior management of Legal and General were mature enough to get past the personal attacks by the Leader of the Council and offered to meet fortnightly to discuss progress.

Which a number of questions.

If the meetings have taken place and been positive why hasn’t it been included in a single Cabinet ‘aren’t we great’ report to full Council since? and

If the meetings have taken place what was being discussed?

Labour did elicit a definitive statement in December last year from the Leader of the Council that the plans were being prepared and that ” Legal and General would be announcing their proposals in January”.

It was as we now know a  ‘False Promise/Statement”, because no such announcement by Legal and General has been made.

However there is one area both the Conservative Borough Council and Legal and General agree on and that is their opposition to the Rushden and Lakes proposals.

Perhaps the real truth about the lack of progress on the Grosvenor Centre redevelopment was revealed in opening remarks to the inquiry by Morag Ellis, QC for the Kettering, Corby & Northampton councils consortium, when she said:

“It would have an adverse affect on planned public and private investment in Northampton, Kettering and Corby town centres”, and

“Most strikingly in Northampton Legal and General have made clear that the redevelopment of the Grosvenor Centre will not go ahead if Rushden Lakes is approved.”

The question is when did Legal and General make it clear that this was their position and more importantly to who?

Did the Conservative Leader and Cabinet Member know what the position was?

And if they did why have they remained silent?

What is also worrying is that in saying that the Grosvenor Centre wouldn’t go ahead if the Rushden Lakes development was approved what happens if it is rejected?

Is their statement a definite commitment that they are ready to go ahead with the Grosvenor Centre redevelopment with all of the plans and a planning application ready to go if Rushden Lakes is rejected?

All of the indications from the statement last week by the Leader of the Council that he has plans to redevelop the Greyfriars Bus station and Grosvenor Centre if Legal and General pull out is that he doesn’t think they are.

The disappointing fact as I have outlined before is that the initiative over the Grosvenor Town Centre development has been handed lock stock and barrel to Legal and General who are now in a position to decide not only if they go ahead but when.

It is a complete role reversal where instead of the Conservatives as was in the manifesto walking away if Legal and General don’t provide a definite start date may only be able to stand and watch Legal and General abandon the project.

As for the Rushden Lakes inquiry we can only wait and see what the outcome will be and with at least three QC’s acting for the parties involved it will be interesting to see who puts forward the most compelling case.

It will be interesting if the decision is taken on planning reasons or political expediency which in itself raise the prospect of the statement of support for Rushden Lakes by the Prime Minister last year in response to a question from Peter Bone MP being meaningless.

What is certain is that the decision will have a major impact on Northampton not only for the town centre but also in the message it sends out to potential investors in the town and especially if a major organisation like Legal and General decide that they have had enough and walk away.