Yesterday, Planning permission was granted by the Secretary of State following ‘call-in’ on a hybrid planning application of a 465,000 sq foot retail and leisure scheme in Rushden, Northamptonshire. The consent comprises: full planning permission for the erection of a home and garden centre, retail units, drive thru restaurant, gatehouse, lakeside visitor centre, restaurants, boathouse, together with proposals for access and an outline consent for the erection of a hotel, crèche and leisure club; plus removal of ski slope and associated levelling, landscaping, habitat management and improvement works, vehicular access and servicing proposals together with the provision of car and cycle parking and a bus stop.

After objections from neighbouring authorities and town centre owners, and despite a unianimous resolution of the local planning authority, East Northamptonshire DC, to approve the scheme, the Secretary of State called-in the application in January 2013.

Avery experienced Inspector, Harold Stephens, held a public local inquiry on 25-28 June, 2-5 July and 9-12 July 2013, following which he produced a report recommended that planning permission should be granted subject to conditions; the Secretary of State agreed.

Ian Dove QC and Hugh Richards of No5 Chambers acted for East Northamptonshire DC throughout including providing legal support at the planning committee meeting.

The main issues at the inquiry were:

i) Whether the Development Plan was to be regarded as being up to date and whether the development was ‘sustainable’ for the purposes of the NPPF;

ii) The correct application of the retail ‘sequential’ and ‘impact’ tests in the NPPF;

iii) Sustainable transport and accessibility to jobs, leisure facilities and services by public transport, walking and cycling, reducing the need to travel, especially by car;

iv) Protected species and biodiversity;

v) Other benefits

vi) The planning balance

vii) Conditions and planning obligations

The Inspector, and Secretary of State agreed that whilst the application was not in accordance with the NNJCS spatial strategy, it would achieve positive improvements in the quality of the built and natural environment and their quality of life, including maximizing enjoyment of the lakes. The Inspector also reported that the scheme would assist in meeting ‘The Vision for North Northamptonshire’, by delivering jobs and investment in services and facilities to help make it a “more self-sufficient area”. He reported that it would also meet the needs of the growing population to the south of that area, and help in regenerating Rushden.

Overall, the Secretary of State concluded that the proposal would accord with a number of development plan policies and objectives, though not all. However he considered that the key policies and provisions in the adopted development plan are out-of-date. He also concluded that the benefits of the proposed development are not clearly outweighed by adverse impacts, and that there are no other material considerations, which indicate that planning permission should be refused.

The Inspector agreed with and adopted a large number of the submissions made by Counsel for the LPA. The Secretary of State therefore granted full planning permission for the site at Rushden Lakes, subject to the conditions set out in his letter.

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