Is Horsham experiencing an ‘identity crisis’?

West Street in 2013
West Street in 2013

Horsham ‘currently appears to be experiencing an identity crisis’, according to the town’s main volunteering horticultural group.

A vision statement for the town centre is due to be approved by Horsham District Council’s Cabinet next Thursday (November 23), following two public consultations held earlier this year.

West Street in 2012

West Street in 2012

Stated objectives include responding to demographic change, strengthening retail and leisure, expanding hotel provision, supporting new cultural and community infrastructure, enhancing access and movement, and evolving the town’s image and identity.

However the Horsham Society suggested the document produced by consultations ‘lacks real vision’, Horsham Denne Neighbourhood Council felt there was ‘very little that is new, surprising or inspiring and there are few solutions to existing problems.’, while the Horsham District Cycling Forum argued that the vision offers ‘nothing for cycling or meaningful improvements’.

Meanwhile Horsham in Bloom’s consultation response said: “Horsham currently appears to be experiencing an identity crisis with the tentative conclusion that it will evolve from an ancient market town into a modern market town.

“A careful and comprehensive overall greening plan for the town would provide a consistency presently absent which would equalise the present disparate natures of the town gateways.”

The group called on the council to ‘learn the lessons of the West Street debacle’ and involve highly-trained horticultural professionals within the council on any future projects right from the start.

Opportunity areas to improve the town centre include the Bishopric, Blackhorse Way, North Street, The Forum, and Queen Street.

Claire Vickers, the council’s cabinet member for planning and development, said: “I would like to thank those people and organisations who have shared their views on both our original concepts and subsequent amended proposals to help shape this ‘Town Centre Vision Statement’.

“We now hope to progress the preferred options that have been identified by creating detailed delivery plans using the Vision as the overarching framework.

“As each idea undergoes further development, it is intended to maintain the considerable degree of public involvement that has been provided so far.”

The vision provoked outrage this week as residents leapt to the defence of New Street Gardens, a pocket park near to the town centre.

Proposals are included to possibly redevelop the RSA car park next to the railway line for a mixture of homes and a multi-storey car park, with the access going straight through the green space.

In response the council said the residents’ concerns were understood, but no plans had been approved to remove New Street Gardens.

An exhibition on the original draft vision saw more than 1,100 people attend the exhibition in May, with more than 320 responses received.

Then nearly 100 responses were sent in during the second consultation in September and October.

Comments include calling for the diversity of the type of shops to be maintained, support for improving Blackhorse Way, several suggestions the block of flats and shops on the southern side of Queen Street should be replaced, an events area in West Street, and facilities for younger people.

What do you think? Email the newsdesk.