|Article by Paul Wright, July 2017
In the 1960's the "Skew Bridge Ski Club" was deemed to be the "in-place" to go, thinking back to those halcyon days it did seem the playground of the more affluent people of the town. It was not until the late 1970's and early 1980's that the membership condition's were more relaxed, allowing a broader base of clientele to attend this comprehensive sort of country club on the edge of Rushden and Higham Ferrers. At one stage we even had the ex-Kent and England wicket keeper "Mr Godfrey Evans" with his distinctive mutton chop sideburns on hand to raise the profile of the place.
Circa 2012 a rather large sign board was erected on the land at the side of the road near to the old Skew Bridge site in Rushden; this was proclaiming that we were going to get a massive shopping outlet!
It might have seemed to many, myself included, that the Rushden Lakes shopping complex was maybe going to turn out to be another "Wonderworld"? ("Wonderworld" was a pie-in-the-sky project that was twenty miles up the road near Corby, and for many years a wooden sign was sitting in the middle of a field proclaiming that "Wonderworld" was coming soon.) In the end the sign collapsed, and the project finally bit the dust. It did seem to have all the kudos of the "Carry on camping" film from 1969, where the rather crafty site owner "Josh Fiddler" played by Peter Butterworth would make extra charges for just about everything that he could extract from likely campers.
At least Corby did replace that hair-brained scheme with "Rockingham" raceway, at the time of this article it is still going strong in 2017, and providing motor racing in that part of Northamptonshire.
So much relief in the surrounding area of Rushden, as we now see our very own jewel in the crown, with the first phase of Rushden Lakes being completed by "LXB properties". “Rushden Lakes" you may be interested to know is owned by "Crown Estate", this is owned by the monarch in right of the Crown. This means that the Queen owns it by virtue of holding the position of reigning monarch, for as long as she is on the throne, as will her eventual successor. Their portfolio has the heady mix of properties covering the likes of Kensintgton palace and much of the land that surrounds it, including several Embassies. A large percentage of properties in St James and Regent Street, and more locally the shopping complex in Leicester at Fosse Park.
By the start of autumn 2016, many units were looking like retail outlets, and we could see everything looking healthy at the side of the A45 at Skew Bridge as we drove by.
Into mid November 2106 the much needed road re-alignments and junction improvements were taking place. Traffic seemed to be flowing well and coping with the on-going road upgrades.
The actual building site was a maze of brightly coloured yellow earth movers that appeared to have an insatiable appetite for moving and consuming vast amounts of earth on the site of the former Skew Bridge leisure complex.
As the year moved from 2016 in to 2017 the familiar shape of a take away food outlet was appearing at the entrance, this turned out to be a "Costa Coffee" drive through.
Road construction was now getting into gear, and lots of earth was being moved around from one area to another. This was despite having a bad storm hit the town on the Thursday 23rd February, named storm "Doris", with wind gusts of between 50-60 mph recorded, and caused heavy damage in other parts of Britain.
February was coming to an end with the good news that "East Northants Council" had approved the amended plans for 461 more car parking spaces. Also three more restaurants; this would bring the tasty tally to 18.
But no doubt about the jewel in crown has to be the cinema. This was to have been a 12 screen unit, but now we are going to have the grand total of 14 screens to enjoy the full cinematic experience.
We were told during the summer of 2017 that "phase two" of the scheme will go ahead without the need for a planning enquiry. This work will include climbing facilities, an indoor trampoline, the 14 screen cinema complex, and to go with all this, 461 car parking spaces will be added.
Rushden has been in the film goers wilderness for far too long, considering that we could go to the "pictures" at three places through the 1950's, 1960s, and the 1970's.
Moving in to the Easter period of 2017, road closures had been put in to place overnight covering the duration between 22.00-06.00 the following day. This was to allow contractors to surface the new road layouts that were now looking like the project was nearing an end.
Into mid May and we can see just where certain shops are going to be situated, as the corporate logos were unveiled on the rear of the buildings nearest to the A45.
In strikingly large lettering we could see that "Primark" was going to be sitting next door to "M and S". It looks like Marks and Spencer have pride of place as you drive in to the Lakes, as you feast your eyes on the impressive announcement of the "Food Hall". One can only assume that this may be a little too close for comfort of "Waitrose" located just over the other side of the A45, seeing that they would be chasing the same demographics?
During late May, would-be staff members were being put through their paces during interviews that took place at "Marks and Spencer" in Northampton, and Rushden job centre. These sessions ran for about 90 minutes, and were designed to put candidates into role play scenarios etc., before their actual interview.
Meanwhile the "House of Fraser" were putting their applicants under the spotlight for interviews up at "John Whites" golf club in Bedford Road; this was also being used for staff training at the end of June 2017.
Last but not least, we can add "Next" to our list; they were using their premises over at "Riverside" Northampton for interviews and training sessions.
The talked about footbridge that was going to be a possible link with the Lakes shopping centre and Waitrose car park never quite came to fruition for various reasons?
But in the week starting 12th June 2017 walkways were erected on the Lakes side of the busy A45 road, and then snaking their way over towards Waitrose. This was made possible with more overnight road closures, to permit work to be done; the weather may have been a little kinder to those working through the night. We endured daytime high summer temperatures in the low 30's C, and even at night it was still nudging 20C. (You can see the position of the remaining gap to be spanning the A45 in one of our shots). The final link spanning the A45 was put in place during the Friday night of 23rd June, and workmen were wrapping things up first thing on the following Sunday.
We mentioned Waitrose, and the store were displaying a computer generated film, and some impressive drone camera footage of the Rushden Lakes on one of their TV's during the final weeks of construction.
But the waters were not all calm down at the Lakes: one local mum was up in arms at the prospect of her daughter not being able to get to her school in Higham because of the changes to some bus routes in the Rushden area! And quite a few people were making their opinions known to me when the new bus timetable and routes, or the fragmenting of them were revealed!
So high was the feeling on the matter, even our local MP Peter Bone had been contacted about the controversial changes.
In response a spokesman for Stagecoach Midlands said “Stagecoach will be providing new links to Rushden Lakes as part of ‘section 106’ developer funding for the benefit of many passengers. In conjunction with Northamptonshire County Council, Crown Estate (owners of Rushden Lakes) and Stagecoach Midlands the X46/X47 will be diverted into the Rushden Lakes site to provide a half-hourly service from Raunds, Higham Ferrers, Wellingborough, Earls Barton and Northampton. Route 49/50 will also serve the site providing a half hourly service for people living in Kettering, Barton Seagrave, Burton Latimer, Finedon and Irthlingborough.”
Cllr Dorothy Maxwell, who represents Rushden Spencer Ward as a conservative on East Northants Council, had sent letters to 600 households in Rushden about the meeting she called at Rushden Town Bowls Club, this was due to deep concerns regarding possible parking issues at the Lakes shopping complex.
The meeting was held from 19.00 on Thursday 29th June 2017, and was called off her own bat. I tried to get information as to what the final outcome of the meeting was, but this proved to be fruitless by the finalising of this article in late July.
I was given access to the Lakes for the first time at lunchtime on Monday 17th July. It was looking very much like a bus drivers’ convention, with three buses shunting their way around the road contractors going about their work. I understand that it was causing mini disruptions while the surfacing work was carried out.
The shops all look ship-shape, but by the looks of the roads down there, it would be a tight run thing to the opening at the end of the month.
Well things had moved on by the following Monday, and shops were glowing with their lights on, on a particularly dull and chilly day, that was more like autumn with a temperature of about 17C. But alas the roads were all but finished, and the engineers were wiring up the control cabinet for the pelican crossing near to Waitrose.
Market Harborough based fashion clothing company "Joules" sent mail shots to customers in the area offering some early bird offers, including a £200 gift card to the first person in the queue on the opening day of Friday 28th July 2017. Other prizes included a £100 gift card to the next ten, and a £50 card to the following ten.
"Marks and Spencer" were also throwing their hat into ring, this was by offering their first 100 "Sparks" loyalty card holders a guided tour of the store. Meanwhile "JD" went the extra mile for their advertising salvo, and used the services of a mobile billboard, mounted on the back of a lorry, cruising the area on the day prior to opening.
Now that history has been made again in 2017, Rushden Lakes will sit alongside such other major developments in our town from many years gone by. It maybe nice to reflect on some from previous major milestones in the area from over a century ago.
Such as the arrival of the gasworks in 1891, and two years later for the first railway train to pull into Rushden Station in September 1893.
And something we take for granted as we turn the switch for our many electrical items around the home, mains electricity surged through the wires for the first time in town on 15th October 1913.
September 1921 saw the creation of "Rushden Sanatorium", where TB patients were well cared for for many years.
And who would have believed that we would have had a football team playing in the league? Well we did and they were called "Rushden and Diamonds", and in the 2000-2001 season they made it into league "division three". They played in a state-of-the-art facility that stood at the side of the busy A6, “Nene Park” sadly this was demolished in the spring of 2017.
The most recent major development was in the summer of 2003 when we had the much awaited road bypass that took the heavy traffic out of the town.
Leisure facilities at the Lakes will also feature well on site, this will include several "nature reserves" to keep families informed and entertained, and you can take to the water as the "Canoe 2" boathouse has opened in late July.
Back up to date and the day dawns it's Friday 28th July 2017, and the sun was shining, as expected the crowds were flocking to this gleaming array of shops right on our doorstep, and it was around 20C.
We caught the 49 service bus from the "Welcome Inn" at 10.20. The bus was nearly full up, with some standing passengers downstairs.
All seemed to be going well until we got near to Waitrose, and then the trouble started: the roads all around were completely "log-jammed"!!
It was very evident that people for the "Lakes" were blatantly parking their cars at "Waitrose" car park and walking over the bridge to the shops over the road. Maybe it would be good idea if some sort of parking payment was introduced by "Waitrose", and their genuine customers were refunded at the till?
The concerns regarding the traffic in the area raised by councillor Dorothy Maxwell earlier seemed to be have been realised with a frightening reality.
So for a journey time that should have taken less than ten minutes to reach its destination, this lasted from 45 minutes, due to being stuck in traffic that was going nowhere fast. This situation will cause extreme congestion on this now busy roundabout on the A45, and not least the road leading down from Higham Ferrers coming along past the Bowls Club and beyond.
I am obviously not a traffic flow expert, but it was made even worse by several busses arriving on the roundabout at the same time.
Traffic issues were also giving motorists problems during the opening weekend, and cars were stacking up near to the already busy re-cycling tip on the Sunday morning.
On a closing note, let’s not forget the councillors in Northampton, Kettering, Corby and even Bedford who strongly objected to the very idea of "The Rushden Lakes", and even made attempts to stop it from being born!
But on the plus side, and to their credit, our local councillors must have been swimming against a strong tide from those towns mentioned above.
So well done to the strong voices based here at Rushden and the surrounding area, and to Rushden Town Council, and of course East Northants Council at Thrapston, and not forgetting our MP Mr Peter Bone for giving us the backing and support to make it a "reality".
Now let’s just hope that all vehicles can get down to the Lakes unhindered on the surrounding roads?