Novartis site gets green light

At the Horsham District Council meeting on October 16 contentious outline plans were approved to build up to 300 homes.

The former Novartis site, Horsham’s Enterprise Park , approval was granted as “the proposal would bring forward the development of a strategic site allocated for mixed use within the Horsham District Planning Framework.

The proposal would provide much needed high quality employment space as well as an appropriate residential area. The proposal utilises a brownfield site in a central and sustainable location, resulting in the regeneration of this strategic town centre site.”

That the substantial site needs to be re-developed in a way that provides both significant employment opportunities and new homes, 35% of which to be classified as ‘affordable’, was not in dispute. However, there were considerable reservations about the proposals because of concerns regarding the impact that an estimated 900 cars (600 from the envisaged 1,700 employees, plus 300 from around 690 residents) would have on the already busy, narrow neighbourhood roads, Wimblehurst Road and North Heath Lane being regarded as among the most congested streets in Horsham. It was felt that road safety issues had not been addressed critically, Jane Apostolou, Chair of the Wimblehurst Road Residents’ Association saying: “The quality of life for residents is still the most important thing,” adding that re-development “should be done appropriately.”

The original intention was to convert the site into a university campus or “world renowned” science park, but that failed to materialise. At the peak of occupation by pharmaceutical company Novartis they had some 1,400 staff, but the provision of 300 houses, plus additional facilities, probably including a café, crèche and nursery and a convenience store would increase the traffic to and from the site. While there is potential for improvement schemes, and some remodelling, possibly to encourage cycling, a monitoring scheme being proposed, further assessment is considered necessary, particularly regarding use of the site as a local short cut. Initially a pedestrian bridge over the railway line was mooted, but the probable £5 to £6million cost, plus land possession and ongoing maintenance, renders the prospect unlikely. The location is well served by established key bus routes, but the introduction of the high volume of additional vehicles remains a major concern, contesting the consultant’s view that “it is unlikely that the development would cause an unacceptable impact on highway safety”.

Cabinet Member for Planning, Claire Vickers regretted that limited traffic investigation had been conducted, but considered that the development would be beneficial overall. Others called for the rejection of the proposals pending further investigation, but some councillors envisaged that refusal might cause site owners West Sussex County Council – who had purchased the site for £16million – to dispose of the land to a developer who would concentrate on erecting even more housing units to the exclusion of job creation. County Council Leader Louise Goldsmith pointed out that: “The residential element is needed to make the plans viable, including the provision of community facilities.”

Feedback from the WSCC consultation exercise a year ago was broadly favourable, but the August HDC planning meeting was brought to an abrupt close when concerns resurfaced regarding potential traffic problems.

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