Plans for a major extension of a Rugby retail park, including a new Debenhams anchor store, has won the backing of one of the country’s top judges.
Mr Justice Lindblom, sitting in London’s High Court, rejected a challenge to the proposal by the owners of the town’s Clock Towers Shopping Centre where plans are also being pursued for retail development.
He had been told of fears that retailers will leave the town centre for the revamped Elliott’s Field Retail Park.
The judge ruled that Rugby Borough Council was entitled to act now to stop “leakage” of retailers from Rugby to other towns in the area, after major stores Evans and Wallis quit the centre for the Warwickshire Retail Park in a neighbouring borough.
He backed the view of planning officers and council members that question marks over plans put forward by CBRE Lionbrook - owners of the Clock Towers - and fellow developers for the Evreux Way development site in the town meant that it could not be considered a sequentially preferable alternative for retail development in the town.
He refused to quash the planning permission granted by the council last July to the owner of Elliott’s Field, Hammerson (Rugby) Ltd.
Their plans involve a dramatic increase in retail floorspace at the retail park by more than 10,000 square metres and a new anchor store, which the judge said is expected to be Debenhams.
CBRE Lionbrook, Cemex UK Properties and Avebury Properties, hAve planning permission for their own development of the Evreux Way development site. A building on part of the site, formerly used by Gala Bingo, has been demolished and the land is currently being used as a temporary car park.
In their battle to persuade the judge to quash Hammerson’s planning permissiom, CBRE Lionbrook claimed the council had breached Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations and failed to apply the “sequential test” in national planning policy that seeks to focus new retail development in town centres.
But the judge rejected the EIA claim as being “without any merit.” He held that that the environmental effects of the proposed development had been properly screened.
He also found that the council had been entitled to take the view that there was a “pressing need” to stop leakage of retail spending from Rugby.
He said: “A benefit of Hammerson’s proposed development was that it would attract some of the expenditure that was going elsewhere.
“The council was entitled to take the view that this was a pressing need, which Hammerson’s proposal could address and no other development on a more central site could.”
He said that the council considered that Evreux Way, was not capable of being developed soon enough to be regarded as an available sequentially preferable site. And he said that planning officers were concerned over investment and funding for the proposed development there.
He continued: “They could reasonably conclude, and so could the council members, that the spectre of delay or prejudice to that future project did not justify the refusal of permission for the redevelopment of the retail park, which was funded and ready to go ahead.”
He said that the officers had acknowledged the risk of retailers leaving the town centre for the retail park, and held that council members made “no error of law” in their conclusion.
The judge ordered CBRE Lionbrook to pay the council’s legal costs, to be assessed later if not agreed, and refused the shopping centre owner permission to appeal.
He said an appeal would have “no real prospect of success”. However, it still remains open for CBRE Lionbrook to ask the Court of Appeal directly for permission.
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