Mall Luton registers ‘reluctant’ challenge to Hatters’ plan due to ‘obvious risks’ to town centre

The Mall Luton
The Mall Luton

The owners of The Mall Luton have registered a “reluctant” challenge to Luton Town’s plans to develop Power Court and Newlands Park due to the potential harmful impact on the town centre.

Capital & Regional PLC put forward their concerns with the schemes on Friday, ahead of the October 10 cut-off for representations to Luton Borough Council.

The schemes would see the Hatters relocating from their current Kenilworth Road stadium to a new, initially 17,500-seater, ground at Power Court. Other facilities would be built such as a music/entertainment venue, cafés/bars/restaurants, 500+ apartments, and hotel facilities.

The 40-acre Newlands Park proposal at M1 Junction 10 for offices, retail space and leisure amenities would help the Hatters finance the Power Court scheme.

Ken Ford, Capital & Regional’s executive director, said the company appreciated how vital the club viewed a new ground, but said the applications had “obvious risks”.

Speaking to this website, Mr Ford said: “We know how important a new stadium is to Luton Town fans and that many others see it as a potential source of pride for the town.

“It can be a facility for the community and an attraction bringing people from all over the UK into a regenerated town. We want to help make that happen.

“Clearly Kenilworth Road wouldn’t flatter any team, let alone one with the aspirations of Luton. We are supporters of Luton town centre and Luton as a community. What’s good for Luton is good for us and an aspirational and successful football club is part of that. We’re all kicking the same ball when it comes to that. How that should be delivered is how we differ.

“We are not anti Luton football club, we are pro football club and pro Luton. We just have to respect each others’ views.”

Mr Ford continued: “It is with great reluctance that we challenge the current planning applications. As experienced developers, we are convinced that a new stadium can be provided on a more affordable site and that an income for the club can be achieved with less damage to the town centre.

“The risks in these applications are obvious. A retail and leisure park at Newlands Park could draw retailers, shoppers and spending power, daytime and evening, out of the town centre. Time and again we have seen big out of town shopping developments sucking the life out of historic town centres.”

He said Dunstable’s White Lion Retail Park and Bluewater Shopping Centre, Dartford were examples of locations adversely affected by out of town developments. He said national policy had since been altered to protect town centres.

Mr Ford said Power Court was an attractive site on paper which Capital & Regional had investigated for development opportunities in the past and the company was therefore aware of the significant costs involved.

He said there were a number of more suitable sites, some of which had been considered by the club before, including the Local Plan allocation of land at Junction 10.

Mr Ford said: “We want to see the town centre regenerated. We are 100% behind the regeneration, repositioning and rebranding of the town centre. But the 2020 applications run contrary to the current and emerging Local Plan.

“Luton’s draft Local Plan is based on years of evidence gathering and consultation. It is consistent with sound national policy designed to protect vulnerable town centres. That Local Plan should not be dismissed as soon as a pair of glamorous and distracting proposals comes along.

“The right way to consider such significant proposals is as part of the Local Plan process. That’s the established way of testing how they work with all the other activities in the borough.

“We are acutely aware that the town centre must expand and improve its retail offer to remain competitive and successful. We believe that some of the activities proposed for Newlands Park better belong in the town centre.

“It is hardly surprising that the fan base who currently sit in Kenilworth Road are very anxious to see the club in a better stadium, but that doesn’t have to be at one of the South East England’s most expensive sites to develop, and paid for by an out of town development.”

Mr Ford said on match days, a stadium at Power Court could lead to gridlocked roads, motorists competing for parking spaces, which would drive shoppers away from the town centre.

He said: “This might be just one day a week, but it is a crucial day for retailers. The planning process does require all these risks to be addressed, but that has not been done in these two planning applications.

“We remain willing to invest in the town centre, as we have done in recent years, and will continue to be an active partner with the council and other stakeholders in boosting Luton’s reputation and realising its undoubted potential.”

In an interview with this website two weeks ago, Luton Town chief executive Gary Sweet said he fully expected Capital & Regional to register concerns.

But he pointed to a study for the Hatters from KPMG which said the planning applications, if approved, could jointly generate around £255m annually to Luton’s economy from 2020 and also 10,500 additional full-time jobs.

Two weeks ago the number of representations to Luton Borough Council on the applications stood at around 4,500.

When asked yesterday for an updated figure a spokesman said: “Due to an influx of representations over the last week, we are still in the process of collating the comments and are unable to provide a figure at this time. We anticipate the information will be available by the end of this week.”