Horsham Bishopric: What's going on at town centre site?
With a number of units still standing empty and no replacement yet built for the town's most controversial sculpture speculation has been growing about what the future will hold for Horsham's Bishopric.
It wasn’t long ago families and shoppers were visiting the area, picking up a meal at the ever popular McDonald’s restaurant, buying gifts from the Argos store or sitting around the iconic Shelley Fountain debating what its purpose in the town really was.
However, over the past four years this has all changed with new developments approved, millions of pounds spent and further plans put forward to ‘enhance’ the area.
Despite all the works and proposals the area has stood relatively unchanged for a year-and-a-half with units still empty and no major enhancements made.
The council said it was still working closely with developers on the projects for the Bishops Weald building while it was also continuing to work on draft plans to enhance the Bishopric.
Below is an in-depth look at the past, present and possible future of the site.
What’s gone on over the past four years?
Things all changed for the Bishopric in 2014 as councillors approved plans to build two new retail units along Albion Way.
The buildings took a year to create and would become home to the John Lewis and Waitrose stores which have since become a huge asset to the town.
Around the same time a second application was put forward by the same developers which looked to demolish part of the Bishops Weald building - at the time home to McDoanld’s and Ragdolls Fine Framing. In its place new retail and restaurant units would be built with 53 apartments created on top.
As part of the plans the Lifestyle Ford garage in Guildford Road and the neighbouring building used by Horsham Bowling Club were set to be knocked down and replaced with short-stay temporary accommodation for homeless households, later purchased by council for £2.7m.
These schemes were put forward by the developer Westrock and were labelled the ‘West End’ project.
McDonald’s closed in 2014 after 25 years in the town with Ragdolls closely following suit and demolition began on the buildings a few months later.
After a year-and-a-half of works, in March 2017 - six months later than billed - the new premises were completed with the apartments still to be built.
At the time Arcus - which was carrying out the works - said the building of the apartments was going to be delayed until the summer but as of writing works still had not begun on the new accommodation.
Two units in the building have been filled with Dreams bed store opening in the ground floor space opposite John Lewis in August 2016 while the Gym Group opened its gym and fitness studio two months ago in the space above.
In the meantime the John Lewis and Waitrose buildings shot up with the retailers opening their doors to the public in June 2015.
Plans were also approved in April 2016 to remove the controversial Shelley fountain. The iconic sculpture had divided opinion in the town for many years and was uprooted in June of that year before being moved to a new home at Westenhanger Castle in Kent.
In the summer of 2017 Horsham District Council announced its plans to rejuvenate several public realms in the town.
It drafted the Horsham Town Centre Vision Statement which outlined several proposals for key areas including Piries Place, Queens Street and The Forum. The Bishopric was also included with may ideas put forward to improve the entrance to the town as well as create a new sculpture or landmark to replace the Shelley Fountain.
However, more than a year after the last public consultation was held no changes have been made or applications submitted.
The former McDonald’s unit also still stands empty and Argos - based in the ground floor unit of the Bishops Weald building - has also shut up shop.
What’s happening now?
After almost a year-and-a-half of little change in the Bishopric many question have been asked by residents about what is going on with the area.
When approached by the County Times on the situation Horsham District Council said it was still working closely with developers and plans were still being created to enhance the area.
The council said it was working closely with developers Arcus on ‘various planning application matters’ for the empty shop units and it was ‘looking forward to seeing the new development at the site taking shape’.
When questioned about the situation with the housing and apartments at the Bishops Weald development - approved in the initial plans - the council said the scheme was ‘progressing through the approval process’.
A spokesman said: “The Berkeley Homes scheme is progressing through the approvals stage and a confirmed start date for the construction of the housing units will follow.”
The council also said it had adopted its Horsham Town Centre Vision Statement and was drawing up proposals to improve the Bishopric which will be put forward for public consultation over the next two years.
The spokesman added: “Following extensive consultation which generated much interest and many ideas, we are now working on detailed strategies for local walking and cycling, and for the public realm which will deliver the first two priorities of the Horsham Town Vision Statement adopted by the Council in November 2017.
“The designs for the improvements to the Bishopric area are scheduled for preparation between 2019 and 2020 and the draft plans will be subject to public consultation. The implementation of any of these schemes will of course be subject to identifying suitable funding.”
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