Writing in support of the North Horsham Strategic Development (NHSD) in your issue of 19 September councillors Dawe and Vickers assert that the development will be vital to achieving the economic growth objectives of the town imposed by central government policy.
It is noted by councillor Dawe that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) - published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in March 2012 – calls on councils to ‘plan proactively to meet the development needs of business’.
He omits to point out, however, that the NPPF also requires local planning authorities to ‘set out a clear economic vision and strategy for their area’ and ‘where possible, identify and plan for new or emerging sectors likely to locate in their area’ and ‘plan positively for the location, promotion and expansion of clusters or networks of knowledge driven, creative or high technology industries’ as well as supporting existing business sectors.
What is the council’s response to this government directive as reflected in its Draft Preferred Strategy (DPS)? Although it refers to the district’s ‘niche market offer’ the only sector specifically singled out for promotion appears to be tourism, which will hardly be helped by establishing a business park on a greenfield site!
There is no indication anywhere that the council has any idea about creating links to networks of knowledge or clusters – such as, for example, the web design and other creative ‘clusters’ that exist in the Brighton area, partly fostered by the university – in line with the NPPF guidance.
In short there is no evidence that the council has any strategy for stimulating economic growth in Horsham (even assuming such growth is desirable, which many residents evidently would dispute). If, as cllr Dawe suggests, the absence of such an economic growth strategy could cause the entire DPS to be rejected by the Government inspector this will be because the council has failed to develop any such strategy rather than because the DPS does not provide for a business park on greenfield land.
The council’s seemingly poor grasp of commercial realities is only underlined by the attempt of cllrs Dawe and Vickers to draw an analogy between the need for a major retail store - such as the proposed new Waitrose in the town - to be provided with a bespoke site to set up or expand and the needs of other prospective investors looking for premises.
From this it would appear they do not understand the obvious difference between an incoming retailer whose motivation is to serve a largely captive local consumer market which can only be supplied from within the immediate vicinity and, on the other hand, a company whose clients may be nationwide or even worldwide and can therefore be served from almost anywhere (known to economists as ‘footloose’ investment).
Given this manifestly weak case for a business park, especially in view of the well documented existence of a large surplus of commercial space in the area (including Crawley), it is incredible that, as indicated by cllr Vickers and the Interim Sustainability Assessment – put out for consultation in August along with the DPS – the sudden decision to prioritise North Horsham rather than Southwater for development was mainly driven by its potential for ‘achieving economic growth’.
If this were really true, it is hard to explain why the proposal for NHSD considered in September 2012 was at that time based on a new hospital rather than a business park when the Government’s guidance favouring economic growth had been public since March 2012 – contrary to cllr Vickers’ suggestion that the council were previously unaware of this.
A promotional article in WSCT (12 September) on behalf of the developers claims that the new business park would create upwards of 4,000 new jobs. Unsurprisingly the article does not indicate whether this figure includes those who would be employed during the construction phase.
If it does then it needs to be repeated that a) virtually all these jobs would disappear after 2-3 years and b) many of the contractors and workers employed would likely come from other areas (if not other countries) so that the income generated would flow mainly outside Horsham.
If on the other hand it is claimed the development would lead to the creation of 4,000-plus long-term jobs on the site it has to be wondered how believable this is in view of the lack of any strategy for attracting footloose investment and the fact that a long-standing major employer in the town (the multinational drugs giant Novartis) is relocating most of its Horsham operations abroad for competitive reasons.
Elsewhere in the County Times cllr Rae has written that without the NHSD we risk allowing businesses to ‘leak away from our district because they receive better offers from elsewhere in the region’. If this is really what the future is about it is clear from the above that this is a competitive struggle that Horsham is ill-equipped to win and in which yet another business park would make no difference.
In other words we are being invited to sacrifice our environment and way of life with no guarantee of any benefit to compensate for our permanently blighted landscape.
The fact that our political leaders, of whichever party, are telling us we have no choice but to follow this insane logic – which has already laid waste to most of the world – is a measure of how broken the economic system now is.
Allingham Gardens, Horsham