Cabinet members answer questions on housing and the economy

An artist's impression of what a business park north of the A264 might look like.
An artist's impression of what a business park north of the A264 might look like.

A meeting in public will be hosted by Horsham District Council tonight to hear the views of experts on the future of the economy and housing in the district (Thursday February 13).

Held in Park North and starting at 5.30pm, the meeting will also hear answers to ten questions submitted by the public.

HDC is currently putting together its housing strategy, which currently contains plans for 2,500 homes and a new business park north of the A264.

In advance of the meeting two HDC cabinet members, Roger Paterson, cabinet member for the local economy, and Claire Vickers, cabinet member with responsibility for strategic planning, have answered questions on housing and the economy.

Mrs Vickers said: “We really understand why people love Horsham just as it is now – we do too. We have both lived here for decades. We are delighted to answer some of the questions that people have been asking.”

Q) I like Horsham as it is now – why can’t we just leave it as it is without building more housing and employment space?

A) Remember that the Horsham District has over 33,000 more residents than 20 years ago – 11,000 more just in Horsham town. And it is this increase in population and purchasing power that has made the town outstandingly successful - supporting so many of the widely appreciated quality of life improvements such as Swan Walk, the Pavilions, The Capitol and the East and West Street renovations.

Further planned population growth will be just as beneficial, keeping Horsham one of the South East’s most attractive and sought after market towns. Success can never stand still, particularly today in response to the challenge of internet shopping. We need to ensure the future economic and population growth that will provide the vibrant and attractive Horsham town and District where we would all wish to live.

Q) Why do we need so many new homes?

A) Our population is changing and expanding. As the population is living longer this increases demand for homes. In addition, many young people are still living with their parents and want to have a place of their own. Families want to live closer to each other and we want to be able to provide the means to help them achieve this.

Q) Why can’t we just say ‘No’ to more development

A) We have to follow strict rules set by government which includes a requirement to meet our independently assessed housing needs. This assessment needs approval under a series of tests by a government appointed inspector. Saying ‘no’ is not an option.

Q) But why do we need so much employment space - 500,000 sq ft sounds a huge amount?

A) The Inspector demands councils produce evidence that they are providing for enough local employment to support economic growth, otherwise he will fail their development plan.

To support Horsham’s plan for the next 20 years, we have commissioned an authoritative assessment on our economic growth potential, shared between ourselves, Crawley and Mid Sussex by expert consultants Nathaniel Litchfield & Partners. This confirms the need for 445 new jobs each year, an increase of nearly 50 per cent compared to previous forecasts.

We have also commissioned a separate market appraisal based on the current and potential demand for business space from Stiles Harold Williams.

These reports both show that Horsham does not have sufficient supply of high quality business space to support economic growth, with an overall shortfall of more than 2 million sq ft. The Planning Inspector will require our development plans to show how this deficit can be made up in future.

Q) Doesn’t Horsham already have enough employment, and well paid jobs?

A) It’s true - Horsham’s fortunate to benefit from high levels of employment. However our economy still has a particular weakness that we need to work on - we have lower wages than we should for local workers. As a result we are losing many of our youngest and ablest residents out of the District, which is not good news for our future prosperity.

In fact average local pay is about 1/3 less than local average income, which shows why over 40 per cent of our residents travel to jobs outside the District. The best way to improve local pay is to attract higher paying, higher quality companies to set up in our District. This is supported by plans to provide superior business space such as the new business park planned for north of Horsham.

Q) What options have we looked at to get us to the ‘Preferred Strategy” for future development

A) The journey towards the Horsham District Planning Framework started in 2009. Nine alternative sites were researched, examined and visited by councillors in the process that led to the Preferred Strategy which is still being discussed. And we have not reached the end of the process yet. Further debate amongst councillors continues this week.

Mr Paterson said: “Our young people deserve the opportunities of better paid careers and well planned affordable housing. And that is exactly what we have to plan for.”