Nik Butler: Strategy cannot reach low-hanging festival fruits

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Horsham has enjoyed another weekend of events.

Not only were Morris sides dancing across the town centre but the hall of Brighton Road Baptist Church was packed with players of boardgames; whilst joggers, sprinters, and runners attended a morning’s 5K Test run in Horsham Park.

I have said it before and will say it again; Horsham is better when it bustles. However these weekend events, whilst exciting and enthusiastic, are empty calories towards economic success. What brings the town together for a weekend only benefits a narrow selection of Horsham Business. If there were midweek events which attracted attendees and maintained the vibrant experience of the crowd then there might be more faith in prosperity. It is not that we lack the infrastructure or opportunity to support the endeavour. Access has never been easier. Ea(s)t Street provides the proverbial food mall experience whilst the Carfax, the Causeway, the Forum, and the Bishopric provide a backdrop to conference breaks. Nor do we lack in suitable buildings from which many an event could be housed. Sure we can build more houses near and within the town centre but in doing so we attract the increasing complaints over noise, lights and smells from local activities.

Given the drive to include our town within the Gatwick Diamond I would have thought there would be an imperative to establish the purpose for Horsham town. Otherwise I fear that the new development will be considered as nothing more than a dumping ground for an overflowing business and housing requirement squeezed out from an inevitable second runway.

What our town strategy continues to lack is the imagination, or the willingness, to do more than listen to property developers and commercial lettings specialists.

Those who read the Horsham District Planning Framework for more than its Housing issues will note that the Economic Development Plan includes little more than a nod towards Tourism and a fair number of pages are dedicated to retail.

I could find no reference to the positive commercial and community effects that the many seasonal events have within our town. The word “events” occurs only twice in the document and there is no mention of Festivals. How can it be that over 120 pages itcan miss such a clear and present opportunity. If our own strategy document cannot reach for the low hanging fruit what hope does it have of achieving any loftier goals ?