Hopefully you are still enjoying what has turned out to be a pretty good summer weather-wise. Thankfully this has provided lots of opportunities for outdoor gatherings and events in recent months.
One of our strategic priorities at Horsham District Council is to promote local arts, leisure and culture throughout the district and so far this summer we have enjoyed record attendances at our free Horsham Park Podium children’s shows, bandstand concerts, Sparks in the Park family spectacular and not least, our increasingly popular Big Nibble gourmet food market which launched the district wide Food and Drink Festival two weeks ago.
As an added bonus, last weekend we also had the Tour of Britain cycle race pass through the district for the first time, attracting large crowds who came to witness the spectacle.
Whilst these events present great opportunities to showcase the district and promote local arts, leisure and culture, they also contribute significantly to Horsham’s retail economy as they create a substantial increase in visitor numbers that many of our peer towns envy.
Both trade and consumer feedback on the events we have staged over the summer has been extremely positive.
I was delighted when it was announced last week that Horsham town has one of the lowest retail vacancy void rates in the country – currently only 4.4 per cent of the town’s retail units are empty compared to the South East region average of 8.2 per cent and the national average of 10.1 per cent.
It is extremely satisfying that despite what is recognised as a challenging economic national environment for retailers as they compete against an ever increasing amount of internet shopping, Horsham continues to outperform other town centres by attracting exciting new national brands and independent retailers.
All this serves to provide the town with a superior resident and visitor experience which is key to economic success.
We are also proud that Horsham town boasts one of the largest numbers of independent retailers in the South East which again is key to boosting the local economy.
In the district as a whole, 101 new businesses started up in July 2014 and we achieved the second highest small business start-up rate in West Sussex
Not resting on our laurels, we are set to further deliver upon the council’s economic development policy as work has now begun on Horsham’s new ‘West End’ redevelopment project.
As part of the £35 million improvements we will see a new John Lewis At Home store and a new Waitrose creating between them some 175 new jobs.
This will be a major new draw for the town and will increase footfall for other businesses too.
It is encouraging and rewarding to see both our events and our economy grow and have so many indicators for the future looking so positive, reinforcing the district’s increasing reputation as a leisure and shopping destination of choice.
All great reasons to look forward to the autumn with confidence after such a great Sussex summer.