WEEKEND DEBATE: £500,000 West Street revamp - good investment?

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A £500,000 grant to be spent on lighting, signage and re-paving in Horsham town centre has been met with a wave of criticism by the public.

It was branded ‘ridiculous’, ‘daft’ and ‘a waste of money’, by locals who were angered by a video posted online by Horsham District Council (HDC) explaining how the money will be put to use in West Street.

Disgruntled locals posted their comments on social media websites.

But Helena Croft (Con, Horsham town) says she welcomes the feedback and has defended the grant use - which HDC fought hard to secure out of a £50million kick-start pot from West Sussex County Council.

Of this package, £35million is earmarked for schemes to accelerate the local authority’s capital programme.

The remaining £15million will support new projects in conjunction with the county’s seven district and borough councils.

This includes £600,000 for neighbouring district Mid Sussex which will go towards a scheme to create units for new and growing businesses. A grant of £1.5million will be contributed to the Chichester Festival Theatre.

And a total of £6.26million will go towards improving broadband services across West Sussex.

In addition to HDC’s £500,000 grant to public realm improvements, £75,000 will be invested in a new food excellence centre at the Brinsbury campus of Chichester College.

Horsham residents argue that the £500,000 should be used to bring more retailers into town. But the money cannot be spent on anything other than improving the street scene, the council made clear this week.

“Horsham District Council does a large amount to try and secure whatever funding we can pots like that,” Helena told the County Times. “In these financially difficult times, and with the change that has come with the internet, every high street is having to fight to survive. We do everything we can to support local businesses but it’s not within our remit to tell letting agencies who they can bring into Horsham.”

She continued: “At the end of the day it’s down to the private landlord who make the decisions as to what shops are going in. Because of that, the look and feel of Horsham is going to become increasingly more important because it’s about the shopping experience so, aesthetically, getting the right look is really important.”

An exhibition for businesses and residents will be held in Middle Street, Horsham, from Thursday 7 to Saturday March 9. Helena says she looks forward to meeting locals and answering any questions they have. The public can also come along to her regular surgeries held in Horsham Museum - details can be found on www,horsham.gov.uk

Natalie Brahma-Pearl, director of Community Services at HDC, said: “Horsham is not immune from the recession. If you stand in Horsham town centre, you look at East Street and think that’s the way we want to be promoting Horsham, and you look at West Street and see it’s looking a bit tired. It needs to be brightened up and brought up to date.

“We can’t become complacent. We’ve seen the very powerful evidence with East Street. This grant is very good news.”

What do you think? Is this a good investment for Horsham town centre? Leave your comments below.