Former Novartis site a hot topic at council election hustings in Horsham

Former Horsham Novartis site
Former Horsham Novartis site

“If I lived in Wimblehurst Road I would probably be looking to move, because the traffic around that area is going to increase.”

This was the message from one of the candidates at the Horsham Society Hustings where questions were asked about the future of the former Novartis site.

After the pharmaceutical firm left town, West Sussex County Council bought the site for £16m, with plans to create a world-leading science park.

Since then, plans for 300 new homes and 25,000 square metres of employment space along with commercial and community buildings have been submitted to the district council.

At the hustings, Ray Dawe (Conservative), David Hide (Labour) and David Skipp (Liberal Democrats) were asked what assurances could be given that the best would be achieved in terms of housing, air quality, parking and others.

One questioner asked if it was ‘time to rethink the use of the site’.

Dr Skipp said he thought there were ‘problems’ with the site – particularly the transport plan – and if he lived in neighbouring Wimblehurst Road he would ‘probably be looking to move’.

Calling the transport plan ‘deficient’, he said he was worried about air quality in the area as well as the amount of traffic which would go into and out of the site.

He said: “We could be doing more to use alternative transport such as bikes. It’s cleaner, it’s more efficient.”

Mr Dawe said the transport assessment was one point the district council had raised with West Sussex.

He told the meeting that, if the council opposed the plans for the site, the matter would pass to government inspectors with the power to give the OK to the whole thing – despite any concerns raised.

He added: “We have to try and modify those and come to something that’s quite reasonable and would be acceptable at the same time.”

But there was applause for one member of the public who was less than happy with the response.

He said: “It’s ridiculous washing your hands of it and saying there’s a planning application coming in – it’s coming in from your party in the same county.

“Surely you should get together and get a decent solution for the town?”

While he did not comment on the Novartis situation, scrutiny and holding the council to account for its decisions were high on Mr Hide’s agenda.

With no Labour members having been elected to the council this century, he was asked how he and his colleagues planned to do this.

Mr Hide said issues had been raised ‘day in day out’, including concerns about the North of Horsham development, adding: “The quality of scrutiny in this council needs to be a heck of a lot higher.”

He was also critical of the number of affordable homes in the district, accusing the council of failing to meet the community’s needs, ‘resulting in a housing crisis’.

Stating that his party would only approve planning applications with 50 per cent affordable homes, he added: “We believe it is unacceptable in an area as affluent as Horsham that people are forced to sleep on our streets.”

Housing was a concern shared by Dr Skipp, who said there were 568 families in Horsham who were waiting for homes, with 26 people in bed & breakfast.

While acknowledging the temporary accommodation recently built by the council – with more in the pipeline, he added: “I don’t think  we’ve done enough.”

Looking at the quality of life in Horsham, Mr Dawe spoke about the work carried out in the town centre under the Horsham Vision – including the £8m pumped into the new Piries Place.

He added: “We have a prudent and financially strong district council, planning for the future while recognising the heritage of the past.”

Catherine Ross (Green Party) was invited to the debate but did not attend.