A battle for the Christmas pound erupted this week after Guildford Borough Council advertised on Horsham billboards selling its county town as a shopping destination.
The advert hailing the town’s ‘free parking’ appears most prominently on the Iron Bridge in Queen Street, but also elsewhere in the town.
However anger spread on social media as it emerged the council’s claim had restrictions and that Horsham has more free parking than its Surrey rival. Horsham traders jumped to the defence of the town’s unique retail offering.
Director of Horsham Markets PJ Aldred said: “The reaction from businesses is frustration that it’s appeared in Horsham, but we all know there’s nothing we can do about that.
“A lot of us promote Horsham far and wide. We promote Horsham Markets very well, but in all our promotion of Horsham we would not put out a message which was not true. It’s verging on misleading. As a customer if I drove past a billboard, I certainly wouldn’t read the small print and even the small print doesn’t say after four on Thursdays and Boxing Day.”
She added: “To discover charges when I arrive at Guildford, I would probably at the least be angry and, at worse, never return. Good luck with managing that expectation, Guildford.”
She said Horsham’s Swan Walk Shopping Centre boasted free parking every Thursday after 4pm until December 18. Town centre car parks managed by Horsham District Council have free Sunday parking as well.
Howard Bayliss, of the Candy Box in Carfax, said: “It was highlighted to me by a customer yesterday who could not understand why Guildford was being advertised in Horsham and Horsham was not advertised in Horsham.
“We have got as much as Guildford and more free parking and we need to advertise here. As traders we can do our bit to let people know now it’s been highlighted to us.”
On social media opinion was split between defending the town and others choosing to shop elsewhere. Others, including leader of the opposition Frances Haigh, have put Horsham District Council in the firing line saying it was its job to sell the town.
Mrs Haigh (LDem, Horsham Park) told the County Times: “Guildford has given HDC a masterclass in how to promote a town and it is to be hoped that next year we will be ahead of the game. It is bad enough that Queen Street is the neglected end of town, without having an advertising board suggesting shopping elsewhere.”
A spokesman for HDC said: “Primesight operates thousands of billboards across the UK, offering any business an opportunity to advertise using outdoor media.
“They operate within strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority, and Horsham District Council has no remit to say which organisations advertise via this media. We are confident that Horsham’s offer rivals that of other areas with more free parking than Guildford over the Christmas period.
“We are also confident that people will make the right decision as to where to shop for a unique shopping experience, with many more independent retailers than the city-based shopping experience that others have to offer.”