Rugby will finally have a flagship department store after years of campaigning - but fears persist about its effect on the town centre.
Multi-million pound plans to expand Elliott’s Field Retail Park - to include a Debenhams - were approved by Rugby Borough Council’s planning committee on Wednesday last week.
Bosses at the Clock Towers Shopping Centre in the town centre said they were “surprised, stunned and extremely unhappy” at the decision.
Hammerson, which owns Elliott’s Field, said it was delighted with the approval, which will lead to the flagship store and several other retail units, cafes and restaurants opening by 2015.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Peter Butlin said: “It’s quite obvious that a few key stores will determine where people go. Key stores will get more people into Rugby. This can only be good. On balance I think this it the right way to go. It will look great and be a gateway for Rugby.”
Cllr Helen Walton said the expansion would be a “positive move” for the borough, while Cllr Noreen New suggested the council needs to “seriously think” about offering free parking in the town centre.
Cllr Neil Sandison said: “We’ve always wanted to encourage a department store in Rugby town centre. This is not in the town centre, it’s out of town. I’m concerned about other retailers from the town centre. They have got a lot of competition.”
Councillors were advised by planning officers to approve the plans, concluding that there are no “suitable or available preferable” sites that could accommodate the proposed development. Following a vote, councillors approved the plans.
As well as Debenhams, Next and TK Maxx are also confirmed tenants.
Tom Cochrane, Hammerson asset manager, said: “We are delighted and look forward to delivering a redeveloped, more welcoming retail park that can meet the challenges and demands of a growing town.
“This is a great result for the borough and Elliott’s Field will play an important role in its future economic growth. By improving Rugby’s retail offer there will be less need for residents to shop outside the borough and the whole town will benefit as a result.”
MP Mark Pawsey said he was ‘delighted’ the town would be getting a department store but said it will mean continuing to work hard to ensure that people still come into the town centre.
Earlier this month Clock Towers revealed £20 million plans to expand the shopping centre onto land in Evreux Way to include new shops, restaurants and a nine-screen cinema.
Centre manager Tony Spencer said: “We were obviously surprised, stunned and extremely unhappy about the council’s decision. We are reviewing our options, and remain strongly committed to the success and future of Rugby town centre. We firmly believe that a town centre development is the only way that Rugby town centre and its constituent businesses can survive and prosper. We will determine our course of action over the next few weeks.”