Go-ahead for Rugby retail park and Debenhams

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Work on Rugby’s new multi-million pound retail park will finally begin later this year, while doubt has been cast over the future expansion plans of the Clock Towers Shopping Centre.

Building work will begin at Elliott’s Field in the autumn of this year to bring a revamped and extended retail park to the town to include a flagship Debenhams store.

Work can progress after 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 Clock Towers Shopping Centre.

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.

He refused to quash the planning permission granted by the council last July to the owner of Elliott’s Field, Hammerson.

Tom Cochrane, asset manager at Hammerson, said: “This is great news for Rugby, as a redeveloped Elliott’s Field will bring further significant investment of £35 million to this growing town and reduce the need for residents to shop outside the borough.

“We have a committed anchor store in Debenhams and a range of other new retailers have expressed an interest in coming to the site.

“Following the delay we will now continue with the scheme and we hope to announce more lettings during the summer, with the aim of starting on site this autumn.”

When Hammerson was granted permission to expand the retail park last year, the owners of the Clock Towers - CBRE UK Property Fund LP - launched their own plans to revamp the 40-year-old shopping centre.

Plans were put forward for an extension into Evreux Way to include a nine-screen cinema, department store, shops, cafes, restaurants and office space for Cemex.

Those plans were granted permission in January this year but the owners of the shopping centre said from the start that the expansion may not go ahead if Elliott’s Field did.

In court last week Mr Justice Lindblom backed the view of planning officers and council members that there were questions marks over the Clock Tower’s plans meaning that it could not be considered a preferable alternative for retail development in the town.

In their battle to persuade the judge to quash Hammerson’s planning permission, CBRE 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 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 a 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.

Tony Spencer, manager of the Clock Towers, said: “The granting of planning permission is a hugely damaging decision, not just for the Clock Towers, but for the people and businesses in Rugby town centre.

“The council is effectively shooting itself in the foot here. It means two things – firstly that we cannot continue with our original plan for the extension of the centre and in turn strengthen the retail offer in the town centre, and secondly it will become increasingly difficult for Rugby town centre to attract and retain the best retailers.”

Rugby Borough Council said it was pleased with the decision made by the court.

Cllr Heather Timms, portfolio holder for the economy, planning and culture, said: “It was a good decision as far as the law is concerned, and it was a good decision for our residents. It is, however, tremendously disappointing that the development has been delayed by this court action.

“I have always made it clear that I believe both the Elliott’s Field development and the proposed improvements to the Clock Towers will benefit the borough, and I sincerely hope that both will go ahead soon.”

The judge ordered CBRE to pay the council’s legal costs 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.

Mark Pawsey MP said: “Rugby has wanted a department store for a generation. In an ideal world we would have had the department store in the town centre.

The opportunity is there at elliotts field and I think that will be very positive for Rugby.

“I think with the town growing we can have our cake and eat it. We can have the benefits of the elliott’s field while enhancving and improving our town centre.”