Council defends £8m cost of new Piries Place car park

Amended plans for proposed Piries Place Car Park showing 'living wall' (photo from HDC's planning portal).
Amended plans for proposed Piries Place Car Park showing 'living wall' (photo from HDC's planning portal).

The council has defending the new £8million cost of replacing Piries Place Car Park, which has increased by £750,000 from the original budget.

Horsham District Council already has planning permission to demolish the current 330-space structure and build a 516-space replacement.

HDC cabinet members and then councillors agreed to increase the project’s budget by £750,000 to £8m last Thursday due to a rise in projected costs.

The scheme is being timed to coincide with the redevelopment of Piries Place Shopping Centre, which is set to see a new hotel, cinema, shops and restaurants built by the start of 2019.

The increased cost means the council will initially make a loss on the new car park before take-up increases.

Ruth Fletcher, from the Horsham District Cycling Forum, asked if the project was the best use of council resources and also called for two-way cycle access between Copnall Way and East Street.

Horsham resident Philip Ayerst asked if the rise in project costs represented ‘panic or lack of control’ at the council.

But Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham), cabinet member for finance and assets, said: “It’s an old building, it has old fashioned car parking spaces and it has had considerable lift problems.

“It’s no longer fit for purpose it’s quite exciting the development is taking place in Piries Place at the moment and this will complement it.”

He added: “This is a fantastic project which the majority of citizens have been waiting for for a long time.”

Adrian Lee (Con, Denne) added: “The current car park is dingy, it smells, it’s got rubbish lighting and rubbish lifts.

“I know plenty of people who will not even take their cars in there because it’s so bad to park in so let’s not deceive ourselves.

“It’s fairly hopeless and I can’t wait for it to be demolished and replaced with something that’s shiny, progressive and fit for the 21st century.”

David Skipp (LDem, Horsham Park), leader of the Lib Dem group, asked for assurances the project management would be ‘extremely tight’ considering the budget had risen before construction had even started.

He said: “It worries me because I do not know if this is going to go way above budget.”

Officers explained the bulk of the increased costs were down to ground conditions and changes to the original design.

Meanwhile a quantity surveyor has looked at the contractor’s costs.

Mr Donnelly said: “I’m afraid things often go up rather than down.”

Gordon Lindsay (Con, Billingshurst and Shipley), cabinet member for the local economy, said: “We are going to see 800 new houses a year for the next 20 years, do we want these people to come in and shop in Horsham?

“Of course we do and if we want them to we have to provide more car parking spaces.”

Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry), leader of the council, said: “I’m very surprised at some of the comments this evening and very disappointed in many respects.

“If councillors are going to say they support something and then do their level best to knock it down I do not think that’s helpful at all.

“We are a quality council who believe in building quality things that are what the public want.

“We do not every five minutes say: ‘Gosh we can’t afford something’ and find ways of affording it.

“We have come up with a perfectly viable scheme that is future proofed as good as we can possibly make it.

“It has got wider parking spaces, it’s going to be much better, everyone agrees it’s going to be much better.

“It’s been through countless, countless numbers of committees at this council that have addressed it.

“What we have is a car park that members wanted and I make that point, members wanted.”

At the earlier cabinet meeting Nigel Jupp (Con, Billingshurst and Shipley) urged the cabinet to look at introducing overnight charges to capitalise on the hotel next door.

He suggested this would help the council recoup its money quicker.

Mr Dawe said they would consider Mr Jupp’s suggestion when the charges are set for the new car park.

Since the new building would be a premium car park, then setting premium parking charges would increase the project’s financial position.

Mr Donnelly added: “It’s very important we get stuck into the redevelopment of the car park as soon as possible.”