Current Issue 9 - Employment

Action is needed to stop the loss of local jobs

Many of us have thought, at least at some point in our lives, that it was worthwhile to travel for a total of two or three hours a day in order to have the job that we really wanted. Other people have no choice and have to do this because that is where the work is and there is no job paying enough nearer to home. Long hours commuting mean less time with friends, partners and children, less time to do things in the evening and to be involved in the local community.

Horsham District Council’s latest consultation document on local employment confirms that Horsham is continuing to lose jobs; that by the measure that the Council chooses to quote as an indicator of employment activity, the district ranks 288th out of 353 in terms of economic growth. In short, in the Council’s own words; “withoutfurther employment growth a ‘dormitory district’ will be created with people travelling to work outside the District during the day and only returning in the evenings or at weekends”.

Given this, much more urgency is needed than expressed in the Council’s consultation document; action is required on a more ambitious scale.  It is insufficient to just plan to meet expected need. The trend in increasing outward migration to work needs to be reversed. Loss of local employment reduces the vitality of the town and leads to a poor quality of life for families where one or more people have to commute significant distances to work.

There needs to be a firm commitment to create sites that will provide a large increase in local jobs within 5 years; and more still over the following 5 years. At the least this may require 14 to 17 hectares (ha) within 5 years and 30ha in total within 10 years rather than the 47ha suggested, but may not be realised, over 20 years. Given the urgent need why has there been no start on the Business Park planned as part of the North Horsham development? Only a relatively small 4.6ha are proposed but it would be something. The employment growth objective ought to be phrased in terms of a specific reduction in the number of people travelling elsewhere to work, rather than just a target number of hectares to be covered with buildings with buildings.

The Council propose several relatively small sites across the District. Rather than several small business locations developed where current opportunities exist, sites should be provided to a plan. There should be one or two sites that are of a significant size allowing each business park to be spacious rather than cramped, likely to attract a range of quality companies with the opportunity for synergy between them. There does in addition need to be one or two sites within walking distance of Horsham Town Centre so that town centre vitality can be maintained and increased. We have lost far too many offices from the centre as offices have been converted to residential.

We once hoped for a University campus on the Novartis site and when that opportunity was lost we at least expected a high-tech business park but now it looks as if this opportunity might be squandered. The site is owned by WSCC and there is a risk that it will be used for further homes rather than jobs. The Council in their Strategic Housing Employment Land Availability Assessment, (SHELAA), show the site as “excluded” and expected to be used for housing! Yes, we do need more affordable homes, and they should be provided on the strategic sites already agreed, but we also need local employment. Building houses on the Novartis site would be exactly the opposite of what any sensible employment plan aimed at providing local jobs, replacing our lost town centre offices, increasing town vitality and reducing out-migration to work should include.

If the Council agrees with Horsham Society that increased employment is needed close to the town centre why is there no reference to the future of Hurst Road where in due course the fire station, police station, magistrates court and sorting office could all close? Why no consideration of the future use of the RSA carpark by the station and the Sainsbury site, the redevelopment of which is regularly considered.

In the Strategic Housing Employment Land Availability Assessment, the only land close to Horsham Town that is indicated as deliverable within 1 to 5 years is the 4.6ha North Horsham Strategic site! 

The consultation document proposes several possible employment sites across the District. Amongst them it raises the possibility of a site to the south of Hillier’s Garden Centre on currently undeveloped countryside, adjacent to the upper reaches of the river Arun that runs through Chesworth Farm. While employment sites are needed, this does not seem like a good location. It is outside Horsham’s current built-up area boundary and beyond the town’s natural boundary of the Horn Brook. The A281 on which it is located is very badly connected to the north, west and south of Horsham requiring all traffic to either go through the town centre or thread its way through narrow residential roads.

Another proposed site is at Graylands, Langhurstwood Road. This would transform the site, which currently houses start-up businesses in small buildings amongst trees, in to a larger site three times its existing size. The site if not developed would form a useful buffer zone between the countryside to the north and the North Horsham Strategic site to its south.

The consultation document talks about the town’s strengths and opportunities. The opportunities should be “to provide new high-quality employment space without delay” and “to effectively promote the town to businesses seeking new premises”. The Council should be active in promoting the town with its “relatively highly workforce, desirable location and good schools”.

This article by David Holmes comments on Horsham District Council's Consultation on Employment, Tourism and Rural Development.