Plans to create ‘umbrella of protected green sites’ around Horsham

Expansion of Warnham Local Nature Reserve and a new public park at Rookwood would create an ‘umbrella of protected wildlife sites and open space’ around Horsham, according to the council.

Thursday, 4th February 2021, 12:09 pm
Visualisation of an expanded Warnham Local Nature Reserve

The district council says these open spaces would be linked by the Riverside Walk to Chesworth Farm as well as Leechpool and Owlbeech Woods, with Horsham Park at the town’s centre.

Under the current development plan for Rookwood Golf Course, around 700 homes south of Warnham Road would be concentrated towards the west of the site near the A24.

The two river corridors around Boldings Brook and the Red River would be protected and any new development would look to create eco-friendly homes, prioritise walking and cycling and be less car centric.

Illustrative concept of development at Rookwood looking south from Warnham Road

As well as a new primary school north of Warnham Road, the larger nature reserve would have a new visitor centre, improved car parking alongside new cycleways and footpaths.

Since HDC’s plans for Rookwood were announced a year ago they have attracted plenty of opposition.

Bur speaking to the County Times, cabinet member for culture and leisure Jonathan Chowen said they had listened and put together fresh proposals after consulting with various stakeholders.

Mr Chowen said: “We have responded in our proposals and I think this one ticks a lot of boxes and goes a long way to addressing these concerns from residents and I think it’s a really exciting and visionary concept we have put together.”

He described how the development was an opportunity for something ‘very special’.

The scheme could also generate a capital receipt of up to £20million to help protect council services he said, while the site was the ‘most sustainable’ put forward in the local plan process.

He suggested without the capital receipt there would be ‘a lot of difficult decisions to be made’ on discretionary council services in the future.

Asked about the decision to promote Rookwood through the local plan, he felt this came with improved consultation and oversight. He explained: “Having it in the local plan might have been a slightly more painful process, but it would not have been an easy process anyway.”

The council has also faced criticism over secrecy and from golfers who want to keep their course.

Mr Chowen said they were not losing a council asset but changing it, adding: “It’s a much better use of a community asset which addresses problems not of the 1990s but of the 21st century.”

He also raised issues with the future sustainability of golf at Rookwood, and while describing it as a ‘lovely course’ he felt golfers had alternatives some of which were within 15 minutes’ drive.

It was ‘public knowledge that golf is on the decline’ with young people doing other things such as running, cycling and going to gyms.

On the late publication of plans which first started to be developed all the way back in 2016, Mr Chowen said they did not want to go public with ‘half-baked’ proposals and had waited until they knew they had a ‘deliverable and realistic’ project to present.

On creating an exemplar scheme, he said: “We want it to be an example for future development and say this is what the council did at Rookwood and this is what we would like to see elsewhere.”

He added: “I hope it will be a really special place for the community to enjoy.”

Speaking directly to vocal opponents of its plans for Rookwood, Mr Chowen said: “Consultation is a two-way thing and we have listened and now you listen and look at what we have proposed. We have listened to you and I think it’s a very imaginative, forward thinking and visionary proposal which will deliver a huge amount of public good for the community and wellbeing.”