Redevelopment plans for Novartis site labelled a ‘pig’s ear’

editorial image

The latest Horsham District Council meeting concerning the future of the town’s Novartis site was brought to a grinding halt when an officer decided the entire matter should be referred to the full council.

An outline application, including 300 homes, for the Parsonage Road site was being discussed by the planning committee on Tuesday (August 6), with several councillors sharing their frustrations and concerns about the whole situation.

When the pharmaceutical giant left town in 2014, there were big plans to turn the whole site into a university campus or a ‘world renowned’ science park.

Now though, with all that dropped, the application, which was put forward by West Sussex County Council, was described by some as ‘a missed opportunity’ and a ‘pig’s ear’.

Concerns were raised about everything from the impact on traffic congestion in the area to road safety to the need for a footbridge over the railway line.

The debate was progressing well, but when Ruth Fletcher (Lib Dem, Denne)  suggested the application be rejected, Barbara Childs, the council’s director of place, essentially ended the discussion.

She said that, because the committee ‘was minded to make a decision in which there are likely to be significant cost implications for the council’, the matter should be referred to the full council for discussion.

Her decision was in line with the powers given to the director of place in the council’s constitution.

If the application had been rejected, the county would have certainly appealed – a process which would have cost the district a lot of money to defend and even more if it had lost.

But there were confused looks all round as the discussion ended abruptly, with one member of the public calling out: “So what’s the point of having a planning committee at all?”

The meeting had started well, with members being told the county had agreed to increase its contributions for pedestrian and cycle improvements in the area from £20,000 to £100,000.

But it was all downhill from there.

Speaking for the county, programme manager Gary Cox told members the application was the result of ‘two years’ intensive work in developing a scheme that is viable and meets our shared objectives’.

Mr Cox said the county’s vision was to ‘retain and create high-quality jobs and businesses in Horsham’, adding: “We are committed to delivering jobs but we need the housing to ensure we have a scheme that is financially viable.

“This is an important regeneration opportunity for both the district and the county. We will ensure this is a well-designed and well-connected development.”

Councillors were not convinced.

Peter Burgess (Con, Holbrook West) reflected the views of many when he said: “I think we’re missing a really great opportunity here. It’s a large site, almost in the centre of Horsham, and it offered us a chance to use the space to enhance the town and also the district and we haven’t taken it.

“It could have been a university campus, it could be a science park but what it’s ended up is yet another mix of more housing.”

Mr Burgess added: “Frankly I blame Novartis and our county council for leaving Horsham District Council with a horrible mess to try to sort out.”

Aware of the potential costs to the council if the application was refused and lost on appeal, he said: “I’m sorry to say I have to support what I can only describe as a pig’s ear.”

One concern that was raised time and again was the impact of the development on the roads.

While West Sussex highways and an independent highways engineer appointed by the district council had some concerns, both said the impact would not be severe.

But Andrew Baldwin (Con, Holbrook East) was one of several who did not agree.

Mr Baldwin said he had ‘real concerns’ and told the meeting that, even without the Novartis site, traffic in the mornings queued from Wimblehurst Road almost as far as Coltsfoot Drive.

With the extra housing on the site and people going to and from some 1,500 jobs, that problem can only increase.

A district council spokesman confirmed the application would be discussed at the next meeting of the full council on September 4.

READ MORE: Former Horsham Novartis site sold for £16m