John Steele: Waitrose plan is not good news for the town

For the last two weeks the County Times has been reporting uncritically on the planned move of Waitrose to a new store off Albion Way in Horsham. The truth is that the current proposals are contrary to the Horsham District Council Town Plan, and will be damaging for the town.

The poor connectivity of the new supermarket with the town centre will mean that, unlike the Sainsbury’s store, shoppers will be deterred from spending time and money exploring everything else our town has to offer.

Worse still, if the tenant is a relocated Waitrose all the shoppers currently attracted into the town centre by its present store will instead park and shop on the wrong side of our inner ring road.

There will be no collateral benefit to the town from new shoppers from surrounding areas. They are likely to come, park, shop in Waitrose and leave again.

The Horsham Society has spent the last five months trying to persuade the developer, Westrock, to amend its proposals, including a meeting hosted by HDC, but to no avail. It is intent on pushing ahead with little or no change.

The decision to jointly promote the scheme with Waitrose, a popular company and its intended tenant for the supermarket, is perhaps testament to both companies’ nervousness.

This is just a softening up exercise prior to the submission of a full planning application next month.

The PR company behind the publicity campaign – Forty Shillings – pride themselves on mobilising public support for schemes to counter local opposition.

Hence all the hype and the dubious Waitrose leaflet and questionnaire.

The leaflet is interesting. Look carefully and you will see Waitrose and Westrock think the Shelley Fountain is in the town centre.

As we have said before, it would be a half kilometre trek from the new store to Waterstones and Carfax.

The questionnaire is heavily weighted to provide the answers they are looking for.

Do we want a new Waitrose?

Yes, probably, but not here unless a sensible way is found to make access to the town centre easy without the need to cross four lanes of traffic.

Do we want new jobs?

Of course, but not at the risk of killing off trade and other jobs in the town centre.

Do we want enhanced public spaces?

Of course, but the suggested landscaping in Bishopric is unnecessary and only planned in a fruitless attempt to improve sightlinestowards the new store.

It would also destroy the sightlines from the bottom of West Street towards the Bishopric by exposing the traffic stream along Albion Way,

Do we want more parking? Probably, but only if there is a free parking period of at least two hours to encourage shoppers to spend time and money in the town centre.

Free parking has not been promised and, even if it was, it would be unlikely to benefit the town centre in the absence of an effective sightline and real connectivity between the two isolated areas.

The real issue here is not about Waitrose but whether a developer should be allowed to create a huge new supermarket, with an equally large non-food store next door, on the wrong side of our inner ring road.

Don’t let Westrock or Waitrose persuade you that it’s not yet another out of town store.