COMMENT: Make your voice heard in debate over North Horsham development

Geoffrey Richardson
Geoffrey Richardson

After months of controversy, Horsham District Council will consider the final (un) preferred strategy on Wednesday, April 30.

The main bone of contention is the proposal by Liberty Property Trust to develop the precious green fields in North Horsham with a 500,000 sq ft business park, 2,500 new houses, a new Parkway station, a 600 space car park, community, retail and leisure facilities for all, health centres (plural), two new primary schools, land for a new secondary school - if someone else pays for it - and all the associated infrastructure.

Why do we need 500,000 sq ft of business space out of town?

Cllr Jim Rae said the Government’s proposed Localisation of Business Rates scheme meant it was essential a new out-of-town business-park was built in order to obtain sufficient income to support HDC’s future financial requirements. However, as Harry Shutt - a world-ranking economist who happens to live in Horsham - has pointed out, Cllr Rae seemed unaware that the entire system of business rates stands to be drastically reformed, if not scrapped altogether.

HDC ‘estimates’ there are 250,000 sq ft of empty commercial premises in Horsham, plus thousands more planning-approved but not yet built. HDC does not know, or will not tell us, how many acres or brownfield sites exist in Horsham. Whatever the figure we know Novartis will be adding to it when they vacate their premises covering 28 acres and including more than 500,000 sq ft of commercial premises.

In 2009 HDC’s consultants, GVA Grimley, reported: “Generally the stock within Horsham is of reasonable quality and provides suitable accommodation for a range of business needs.” Despite that, Liberty maintains: “The majority of existing office space in the town is of poor quality and has been vacant because it is ageing and not fit for purpose, not because of a lack of demand.”

HDC also conveniently ignores the clear indication in the Local Strategic Statement of the Gatwick Diamond Initiative (GDI 2012) that there is little need for more business space in the area as a whole - particularly outside the Crawley-Redhill corridor - other than for warehousing or distribution - not what is envisaged for the business park development being proposed by HDC.

Because it is wedded to the ‘need’ for a new out-of-town businesses park, HDC employed a different consultant, Nathaniel Litchfield & Partners (NLP), which reported its Economic Growth Assessment - Emerging Findings in December. A crucial conclusion was that the land North of Horsham achieved a lower score than existing employment sites! And, the NLP assessment did not include any consideration of brownfield sites.

In desperation to find evidence of demand for the proposed business park HDC has also commissioned a leading commercial estate agency – Stiles Harold Williams (SHW) – to undertake a market appraisal (2014). However, this evidently confirms the earlier Grimley and GDI findings, concluding that a) the project would be ‘speculative’ in an area such as Sussex where there has been very limited speculative development over the last 10 to 15 years and b) rental levels have been too low to justify such development – even since before the start of the recession in 2007.

The SHW report also apparently gives the lie to Liberty’s wholly unsubstantiated claim – repeated without qualification in the half-baked Strategic Economic Plan of the Coast-to Capital LEP (March 2014) - that the business park could generate 4,000 jobs when it notes that a recent transaction on 10 acres of prime employment land within the Gatwick Diamond region has only generated 100 jobs.

Responses to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests have revealed that, subject to the closure of Faygate Station, Network Rail will only agree to one new train station being built between Littlehaven and Crawley stations and that Network Rail has already given its support for a new train station at Kilnwood Vale, West of Bewbush. It is clear that Network Rail will not consider the inclusion of a train station North of Horsham unless, for some completely unforeseen reason, the Kilnwood Vale development is stopped. Not even then, Network Rail is currently spending £4.5m upgrading Littlehaven Station.

An FoI request has also revealed that, even without the proposed North of Horsham development, traffic arising from the West of Horsham and West of Bewbush developments is expected to be so great that the Highways Agency has imposed a maximum limit of 800 new houses (out of a planned 2,650) West of Bewbush until there is an increase in capacity at the M23 Junction 11.

Traffic arising from the West of Horsham development is expected to be so great that traffic lights will be installed on the Great Daux roundabout at the junction of the A24 and A264.

To ease the flow of traffic from the proposed North of Horsham development a new roundabout is planned on the A264 between Langhurstwood Road and Old Holbrook and four traffic-light controlled pedestrian crossings along the A264.

HDC’s Traffic Impact Assessment brief for North of Horsham makes no mention of any new schools.

As well as bussing more than 640 children from Southwater to schools in Horsham, at a cost to rate payers of £250,000 every year, perhaps HDC intend the same for children in a North of Horsham development?

Of course, if a new secondary school was built then people in Holbrook, who have paid a premium for their houses, would find they are looking at a new school-catchment area.

The West of Bewbush development already reduces the Horsham/Crawley gap by 22 per cent. The North of Horsham development proposal reduces the remaining gap by a further 15 per cent. In total, one third of the Horsham/Crawley gap will be lost.

In order to maintain vibrancy and vitality of our towns and villages, development should be distributed across the district, providing employment and homes for local people and protecting the character and scale of all our settlements. The council should also take advantage of new guidance just issued by the government (March 2014) allowing them a) more leeway in committing to allocate housing land as far ahead as 15 years, and b) to incentivise more development on brownfield sites.

The beginning of the end?

Look out for more news and the HDC council meeting at 6pm on April 30. Make your voice heard, LOUDLY.