“I am confident we can attract a major hotel,” declared Horsham District Council’s cabinet member for the local economy at a recent cabinet meeting, after referring to ‘promising enquiries’.
Roger Paterson (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) was responding to points made by Peter Burgess (Con, Holbrook West and Horsham Town), who had told the gathering of elected leaders: “I don’t think Horsham is going to expand until it gets a decent hotel in the town centre.”
Mr Burgess recommended cabinet members and the council should be looking at securing an operator who would bring some conferencing facilities to the town.
Mr Paterson clarified: “We have to get a willing investor and that has proved difficult. I think we are getting close to that and we have had some more promising enquiries recently.”
However, where would a new hotel be located in Horsham? Following the news Novartis is quitting the town, some have suggested that its 1930s art deco building could be transformed into a new hotel.
However, for Mr Burgess the site off Parsonage Road and across the railway tracks is too far from the town centre.
Speaking to the County Times, Mr Burgess said the former Sun Alliance office building Linden House fronting Albion Way would provide a much better site for a new hotel. Plans to create a new residential block there were rejected by councillors last month.
“The site would be ideal in my view,” said the north Horsham parish councillor, who added that although he is not a hotel expert he has probably stayed in more than a 1,000 around the world during his career.
“There is nothing worse than sitting in a bog standard hotel on the Paris ring road with nowhere to go,” continued Mr Burgess.
“What you want is a large comfortable hotel, hopefully four star, in the centre of an urban area where you can walk out to restaurants and to the shops, where you do not feel imprisoned by the hotel, so you have to pay their bar prices and eat their food.”
Another site that could now be redeveloped to include a new hotel is HDC’s Park North offices adjacent to the Capitol, following the authority’s announcement last week that is was moving its operations to County Hall North.
However, the Horsham Town Plan, published by HDC in September 2012, has already stipulated Hurst Road as an ideal location for a new hotel.
It states: “Along the western edge of Hurst Road, the Council will take opportunities, where suitable, to consolidate and redevelop the various public sector sites, which could include the co-location of services as promoted through the Total Place Initiative.
“This could free up various sites along Hurst Road and on the edge of Horsham Park, in which new uses could be introduced.
“Due to the proximity to Horsham Park, the station and the town centre, this area could become attractive for small amounts of high quality residential led development and could open up a possible site for a new high end hotel operator with conference facilities.”
Mr Paterson told the County Times that Hurst Road remains the favoured location for a new hotel.
“I think that would be a very good location for that standard of building down that side of the park and we have taken long term decisions, or are in the process of taking long term decisions, to make sure that that would become available if required.
“But we have to find the operator and I think this is tied up very much with other investments that we would hope to attract, and in particular of those are new employments areas.”
Mr Paterson made the connection between developing North Horsham with its state of the art business park, implying it could act as a catalyst, ensuring a critical mass of demand is created in Horsham to ensure any new hotel is commercially viable.
Earlier this year, HDC consulted with the chief executive of the Exclusive Hotels group which owns South Lodge Hotel. Danny Pecorrelli told the County Times: “They’ve been approaching lots of local businesses and lots of operators in certain niches, so we have had a conversation on how a hotel could work within that, and they’ve canvassed views I know not just from myself but from other hoteliers on what sort of hotel could work.”
Hurst Road is home to several public service buildings such as the fire station, police station, youth centre, law courts and South East Ambulance Service, as well as the recently privatised Royal Mail delivery and sorting office.
A spokesperson for HDC confirmed ‘dialogue is ongoing’ with these organisations with a view to ‘achieve satisfactory level of land assembly’ for regeneration objectives.
Sussex Police has already stated Horsham Police Station will be sold as an asset, while the county council has announced plans to relocate the fire station to the West of Horsham development.