The future of Horsham Football Club playing in their home town is looking less certain this week after plans for a new ground were refused.
On Tuesday (January 20) fans packed into the Horsham District Council chamber and the overspill in the Capitol Theatre to hear the impassioned debate of the council’s development control committee.
Members were considering an application for two pitches, a two-storey clubhouse, and three stands for 557 spectators at Hop Oast near Southwater.
The club have been looking for a new home since 2008 after selling their Queen Street ground. They have since been nomads, sharing a ground with Horsham YMCA.
Club managers and supporters said Hop Oast was a sustainable site for a new ground, but those opposed believed it would be ‘urbanisation of the countryside’ and would be an unsafe location for pedestrians and cyclists.
Despite officers recommending approval, members voted 13 to 9 against the plan.
Ian Howard (Con, Southwater) said: “At last a new home for Horsham FC. We have been waiting seven years, but I don’t think Horsham has done a good job, here. However we must look at each part of the application.”
He felt the problems with floodlighting and the impact on ancient woodland could be overcome, but he was critical of the size of the proposed clubhouse, as were others.
He said: “It’s a very large clubhouse out of scale for the football club. It’s an event and entertainments centre to earn money for the football club.”
On those grounds he put forward a proposal to refuse the application.
David Sheldon (Ind, Denne) said: “I’ve seen nothing to justify why we need an entertainment facility in north Horsham [district]. There may be a need, but I can’t see any here and is this location the right place? This is a new business in the countryside.”
John Chidlow (Con, Southwater) raised concerns about the loss of green space to residents and the safety of people wanting to walk and cycle to the site.
Fellow member for Southwater cabinet member Claire Vickers, whose portfolio includes planning, added: “I want to find a home for Horsham FC, but this recommendation says we should go against policy because the community benefits outweigh going against policy.
“We have a proposal for two pitches, associated parking and a very large clubhouse. The land and townscape should be protected. This development would have some urbanisation effect.”
Not all councillors agreed. Jim Rae (Con, Holbrook East) said: “We have been told by officers that policies are guidelines, not tramlines and now we have the opportunity to prove they are guidelines, not tramlines. Our officers use their professional judgement before they come to a recommendation.”
He said the officers’ report gave solutions to members’ concerns about floodlights, noise, and parking. He noted West Sussex County Council Highways had no objection.
Roy Cornell (Con, Roffey South) was greeted to applause when he said: “It keeps the game going. Horsham has a wonderful rugby club and a wonderful cricket club and I want to see a wonderful football club.”
Godfrey Newman (LDem, Forest), whose ward covers the club’s old Queen Street home, raised concerns about cycle routes, but warned his colleagues: “If we turn this one down, I think we could probably say goodbye to the Hornets.”
Planning officers also urged councillors to consider that they had looked for other sites without success.
The recorded vote was lost 13 to nine with one abstention. Three councillors were not present.
The club’s supporters and some councillors reacted with disappointment to the news. The club is considering appealing the decision.