Plans for an ice rink in Horsham Park this winter were approved by councillors last night, in the face of vocal concerns from residents.
Horsham Outdoor Events was granted temporary planning permission for the facility at the volleyball court site off North Street by Horsham District Council’s Planning Committee North.
Residents turned up in force to raise concerns about the impact on parking, trees and wildlife, the possibility of littering exacerbating problems with vermin, and disturbance to nearby residential properties.
But supporters of the ice rink, which will be open from mid October to late January, hailed the economic benefits to the town and the enjoyment it would bring to families over the festive period.
After the meeting, Sally Sanderson, who has been leading the campaign against proposals, said they were ‘disappointed’ that concerns about the ice rink being in the wrong place ‘didn’t win the day’.
She described how they did not want to deprive visitors of the thrill of skating and the event is considered temporary, but added: “The problem is what happens next? Our fears were confirmed when more than one councillor referred to this as a ‘test’ for a more permanent area for events.
“This is what we knew was the plan, with the ice rink as a sweetener to Horsham residents so that they don’t complain when free-to-use green space is taken away.”
During the committee meeting, Mrs Sanderson, who has helped form the New Friends of Horsham Park, said: “There have been some fantastic initiatives in the park but we do need to stop the erosion of green space.
“An ice rink is fun but this is not the right place for it.”
Fellow objector Michael Horner argued the proposal ‘sets a dangerous precedent for hardstanding and a permanent change of use’, while Malcolm Willis, chairman of the Horsham Society, added: “This application is totally inappropriate for the park and in particular this sensitive area. It’s too close to residential homes.”
Richard Bradley, director for Horsham Outdoor Events, described how it was a ‘responsible operator’ and an ‘experienced provider with a good track record’.
He pointed towards the similar event they run in Worthing’s Steyne Gardens, which receives no complaints from houses nearby, and also explained that they could not use the Camping World site off Brighton Road as they had done last winter, because of the ‘effect it had on businesses’ there.
The ice rink, which will be covered by a marquee, will run from October 20 to January 28 and will include a cafe and reception.
Connor Relleen (Ind, Horsham Park), one of three local members, said: “Horsham Park is one of the few shared open spaces in the town. It’s an area of real beauty and we chip away at it at our peril.”
He described the site as a ‘stupid location for an ice rink’.
But David Skipp (LDem, Horsham Park) said while he would be the ‘last person to want to se any encroachment of any permanent nature in the park’, he acknowledged it was temporary and the council would see what happens this year.
He added: “I think I would like to see the enjoyment of families and I would like them to come to Horsham rather than having to travel elsewhere.”
Jonathan Chowen (Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead), cabinet member for leisure and culture, started off by criticising cheering and several interjections from the public gallery.
He said: “In my years in local government this is the first time I have seen a planning committee so intimidated and I think it’s totally unacceptable.”
The council’s deputy leader felt he had been a ‘guardian’ of Horsham Park during his time in charge of the portfolio, and described how the park team was committed to maintaining it as a special place.
He added: “Let’s have some fun and the only noise they [residents] will have is the laughter and fun of the children of Horsham district enjoying themselves in the ice rink.”
Trudie Mitchell, chair of Horsham Denne Neighbourhood Council, suggested ‘many of the fears expressed seem to be unfounded’.
She said: “It will bring much enjoyment to the community and deserves a fair and proper trial.”
Most of the committee members agreed with her assessment.
Toni Bradunum (Con, Nuthurst) described how the park is not a ‘static museum piece’ and how the ice rink would be a ‘great asset to the town over the Christmas period’.
Meanwhile Billy Greening (Con, Southwater) suggested that if the event was a disaster the council could simply not allow the piece of land to be used next year.
Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater), cabinet member for planning and development, added: “I think the point has been made that it’s a temporary planning application.
“It will bring a lot of fun for our young people.”
What do you think? Email the newsdesk.