The developer behind the £35M redevelopment of the Bishopric and Albion Way area of Horsham, first exclusively revealed in the County Times (31/1/13), has also taken ownership of Bishop Weald House, home to MacDonalds and Argos.
However, Westrock Ltd has confirmed ‘Bishop Weald House itself doesn’t play any direct part in the development of the west side of Albion Way’ - where it is suggested a John Lewis store will locate.
Robin Barton, development director at Westrock told the County Times: “We have ownership of Bishop Weald House and it sits at the end of West Street, at what will be the crossing point to the new development and we are looking for options for that.”
How the new development on the current site of Horsham Bowling Club, Lifestyle Ford car dealership, and Bishop Weald House car park will link to the town centre is the ‘10,000 dollar question’, according to Adam Walker of Crickmay Chartered Surveyors.
Reaction and speculation has been rife since the paper broke this story two weeks ago, and Mr Barton quashed some of the possibilities put to him.
A vision of walking into a shopping centre where Argos and MacDonalds trade, which then stretches back out and over Albion Way connecting to the new site, in a manner similar to the RSA building just up the road, was immediately rejected.
“We’ve looked at all sorts of ways of linking the Albion Way site into the main shopping street for Horsham, West Street, and that end of Bishopric,” said Mr Barton.
“But the difficulty is that Horsham isn’t Kingston, not to be disparaging in any sense, but you have to recognise what level of the trade the centre can trade at.
“It is not going to be a centre that has those big multi-level mall-based schemes like Kingston or indeed Croydon is now being lined up for.”
And it seems a pedestrian bridge over Albion Way is also not being favoured as he added: “We want to keep it a surface level crossing to the new scheme.”
Under the new owner, the ground floor retailers of Bishop Weald House are secure in their premises, but the office occupiers above are now facing a more uncertain future.
Charles Williams, the managing director and editor of Aircraft Commerce magazine based in the building contacted the paper concerned his new landlords British Airways Pensions Fund would prefer they vacated the premises.
First his lease was only renewed on a rolling six month basis before Christmas, and then he heard rumours the intention is to ‘mothball’ the building.
Adam Walker of Crickmay Chartered Surveyors which acts on behalf of the owners leasing commercial space in the building confirmed this.
“There is a lot of space in that building and obviously the Waitrose John Lewis development is going to encompass the Bishop Weald car park, and something imaginative needs to happen with the offices in there.
“I think the landlords intentions are to just close the building down and then they can look at alternatives.
“Ultimately I think there will be some form of redevelopment there, but I don’t think they have actually crystallised their ideas yet,” he said.
Mr Walker estimated the 35,000 sq ft of office space is only a quarter occupied, while Mr Barton of Westrock said the office spaces ‘are far too big’ and that they did wish to discuss relocation with existing tenants.
“Ultimately it is about trying to find beneficial use of the upper floors of that property,” said Mr Barton.
Presently the under occupation is costing the landlords about £200,000 a year, believes Mr Walker, while owning it does facilitate finding a solution to linking West Street and the town centre with the new development site.
It could be possible traffic is redirected away from the stretch of Albion Way between the two sites, instead siphoned off at the Curry’s / Staples access roundabout and then up through the new development site to meet the Bishopric where Lifestyle Ford currently fronts onto it.
The Horsham Town Plan, published last year by Horsham District Council and which is the guide for Westrock’s development plans, says: “The creation of a new vehicular route or the major redesign of Albion Way in this area will be encouraged to make the environment more inviting to cycles, buses and pedestrians. A new vehicular route would enable the reduction of traffic on the old section of Albion Way and allow for better connections between this area and the town centre, in particular across Albion Way to West Street.”
It would seem logical a pedestrian linkage would then be developed to the left of Argos, through a section of Bishop Weald House and its lorry park to the rear, going on to cross a quieter Albion Way into the new development site.
However, this remains speculation at this time and in the words of Mr Barton some ‘remaining pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are yet to be put in place’. He said they are still ‘moving forward’ though and he ‘really would like to get to the point where we can talk about it openly’.