Fresh fears for Rugby town centre’s future

Clock Towers manager Tony Spencer: "Retailers are nervous about committing to Rugby town centre"
Clock Towers manager Tony Spencer: "Retailers are nervous about committing to Rugby town centre"

Concerns are growing for Rugby town centre following plans to allow more goods to be sold at one retail park and news of which shops are moving into another.

Managers of the new Technology Park development off Technology Drive want to change a rule that restricts the type of items its shops can sell.

Meanwhile, fashion chain Outfit - which includes brands such as Topshop and Burton - has been named as a new tenant of retail park Elliott’s Field, along with shoe shop Clarks. Both companies currently have shops in the town centre.

And Clock Towers shopping centre manager Tony Spencer is among those who fear the trend will kill trade in the town centre.

He said: “If they relax the rules then it won’t be long before others try and do the same. We will end up losing more and more retail in the town.

“We said right from the start that trade will be taken away from the high street if they open new retail parks on the outskirts of Rugby and it is already happening.

“Some retailers are getting their foot in the door before the developments have even started.

“People have to drive past the retail parks to get to the town, so they might think it’s more convenient to go there instead of coming to us.

“Retailers are nervous about committing to Rugby town centre because they can see people moving out of it. Independent shops might be wary about coming in and that’s not good news.”

Plans to redevelop land north of Technology Drive were approved last month, with a condition preventing its shops from selling clothes, footwear, pharmaceutical goods or recreational goods. But developer Key Property Investments has applied to change the condition so it stipulates what items could be sold.

It wants these to include electrical goods, soft furnishings, camping equipment and homewares, but not food, clothes, fashion accessories or beauty products.

Aftab Gaffar, managing director of Rugby First, which promotes shopping in the town centre, said: “It’s important we protect our town centre and if we are going to make it more viable then we need people to come into it and not set up outside of it.

“We believe the proposed variation of the condition is to open outlets that will compete directly with businesses in the town centre and is designed to attract new tenants to the site. This would seriously threaten the town centre shops.

“The worry is that outlets which are looking to set up in the town may be attracted to this site instead and the widening of goods means shops already based in the town centre may consider moving further out.”

Rugby Borough Council’s planning committee will decide whether to change the existing condition. Council leader Cllr Craig Humphrey said: “The planning committee will need to weigh up the merits of this application on the facts that are presented to it and make a decision in line with planning law.”

And he cast doubt on the possibility of using the former Gala Bingo site for shops in the near future.

Cllr Humphrey said: “Clearly we all want a strong town centre with a vibrant economy. But there is a major difficulty with the old Gala Bingo site as all of the evidence suggests the site is unlikely to be developed for some considerable time.”

John Dodds, Midlands regional director at St Modwen, which is behind the Technology Drive plan, said: “St Modwen’s Rugby Retail Park is aimed at major bulky goods retailers who do not normally trade in town centres. Our recent application to Rugby Borough Council seeks to clarify the range of goods that could be sold at the retail park.”

There are also strong rumours that Marks & Spencer may be opening a store at Elliott’s Field. But a spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer denied this week that it had any such plans.

Tom Cochrane of Hammerson, which runs Elliott’s Field, said the company was pleased with the level of interest it has seen from retailers. He added: “It shows confidence in our redevelopment of the retail park and Rugby as a retail destination.

“It’s fantastic to be able to offer consumers new brands and a significantly improved retail offer, which importantly will retain retail spend and consumer confidence within Rugby.”

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