With the demise of national chains adding to the tally of empty units in Horsham, many fear shoppers may be losing faith in the high street.
But major investment is afoot. Horsham District Council (HDC) has been given the go ahead to pour £500,000 into revitalising West Street this year.
A team has been devised to decide how to spend the fund over three key areas: street-scape, signage and town centre car parking.
On top of this, the cabinet member for the Local Economy has revealed that ‘large players’ are focusing on the Bishopric, with purchases of blocks in that area already being made.
Roger Paterson (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) told the County Times: “I think everybody should be concerned about the UK economy, and Horsham doesn’t stand alone, it is part of the national picture. But as a town it has thrived in the last few years where others have had empty units.
“We are going to have national failures and very sadly that’s going to mean very substantial changes. But I’m confident that we are putting a structure in place that will attract business.”
He said that ‘the face of the high street will change’.
“The internet has had an extremely fast effect - faster than anyone anticipated. Book shops have been affected, and now it’s music and cameras.
“And they will be replaced by those stores where the public actually have to come in to see what they’re selling or to enjoy the service such as hairdressing.”
Mr Paterson said that while he cannot reveal full details, ‘several large players’ currently have their focus on units in the Bishopric area of Horsham.
Meanwhile the ball is rolling for work to commence on West Street thanks to the cash injection granted by West Sussex County Council.
“Major investments are being made, within a fairly short time there will be announcements,” he added.
But despite the sudden departure of national chains the cabinet member says he is confident that the local authority has a strategy in place to attract more business and shoppers to the town.
“There’s one remarkable fact about Horsham,” he told the County Times. “We have twice the fidelity of visitors. One of the reasons is that it’s quite a compact town and it always has a very high footfall audience.”
Mr Paterson defended the council’s decision to increase the price of parking in the town centre.
“We are still very competitive in car parking. There is no indication from our figures that previous price increases have led to a fall in footfall.”
The cabinet member added: “If you walk around Horsham - and not just on the days when we have wonderful events - there is a feeling of liveliness and activity and that, at the end of the day, gives me confidence.”
Speaking of the £500,000 cash injection for West Street, Helena Croft, cabinet member for Horsham Town, Communication and Special Projects, said: “The council has been engaging with a number of local businesses and a project board meeting will soon be taking place with various stakeholders. More information will be known after this meeting and will be shared in due course.”