Just like anywhere else - throughout Horsham’s history as time has passed things have changed; people and places need to adapt to new circumstances in order to thrive.
From being a small bustling market town Horsham has evolved into a vibrant large town where people have been proud of its character and heritage. Most modern innovations have been carefully chosen to blend with older architectural treasures but this has meant many years of upheaval. Throughout the years during which the town has been experiencing rapid development there has always been a vision of excellence, a sense of pride and a desire to show anyone coming to the town that this is an attractive and unique destination.
My concerns are that the quality of our expectations is being watered down. Town representatives and residents have practically no chance of influencing what happens here in Horsham Town. We have some treasured works of art, some fine open spaces and an individuality that makes people love Horsham Town. Without protecting and caring for the things that make Horsham exceptional it will become a very mundane and ordinary place! People have worked hard to create a venue that is a magnet for business and a jealously guarded haven for its residents; now is NOT the time to lose sight of that.
Funding for town projects is mainly managed by HDC; some projects have been extremely clever and have delivered real improvements. The East Street pedestrianisation was well researched and fully discussed, it has now become a superb improvement fully in keeping with the town environment.
More recently we have seen significant ‘windfall’ funding spent on West Street, unfortunately this has managed to make the street less exciting than it ever was before. The blaze of colourful sponsored floral baskets are gone replaced by inconvenient awkward planters taking up room on the paving and filled with non-descript hedging,. Gone are the stylish posts which provided decorative planting well above eye-level, victims of an intention to open-up sight lines. The paved surface is not looking any better than before and it is still splattered with chewing gum. The durability of the street furniture is questionable, varnish started peeling away almost immediately. The inset lights don’t make much impact and the phrases about Horsham which are a pleasant addition are hardly noticeable on a busy shopping day.
As part of the West Street enhancement scheme signage across Horsham Town has been reassessed. It was correctly noted that some areas were suffering from an excess of signs that made them untidy and confusing. A tidying up was essential but what I hadn’t bargained for was the outcome! There was some consultation about ‘way-finding signs’ in Horsham Town but the end result does not appear to reflect many of the opinions being put forward. I am amazed that the cast iron finger posts were removed rather than refurbished; they were sturdy and had some character. Basic modern monoliths and stark modern finger posts in dark blue and white really don’t blend with the nature of Horsham town or Horsham Park. For me they represent the kind of modern street furniture that is seen in ‘clone’ towns not what you expect to find in pleasant historic country towns. They probably cost a lot of money and I can’t help feeling that there must have been something far more suitable. Their appearance definitely detracts from the individuality that Horsham has always tried to cultivate.
Finance for Council projects has been much harder to find during recent years of austerity so when money it is available it needs to be spent wisely. With a windfall of around £600.000 townspeople should have been able to experience transformations that brought benefits and looked stunning. It is counter-productive to lose sight of what makes Horsham a desirable and worthwhile destination; special efforts should constantly be made to capitalise on Horsham Town’s many renowned attractions and advantages; these include its fine horticultural reputation and its broad artistic and cultural pedigree.
It is absolutely right that we seek to protect all the fascinating villages and towns in Horsham District but it would be wrong not to recognise that Horsham Town is the central hub of this District and has an equal right to be properly protected from damaging development and unsuitable change. The whole District needs Horsham Town to retain its unique charisma because this acts as a magnet to business and inspires a sense of wellbeing across our communities. Once that individuality is gone it will be a far less vibrant and popular place. Many local people feel that Horsham Town has been poorly served by HDC in recent times; the town needs proper control of its own destiny in order to overcome the prospects that are currently threatening its future.
A change in the way the town is administered is urgently needed. We must bring back a greater degree of confidence and trust in our Local Authority, for me that means the removal of the Cabinet system at HDC, returning to a system where ALL elected members can be fully involved and the formation of a legally constituted Town Council for the unparished area of Horsham Town. Councillors should genuinely be ‘PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST’ never politics!
Christine Costin (LDem) is a district councillor for Trafalgar Ward (Horsham Town) and former chairman of Horsham in Bloom.