The bumper crowds and electric atmosphere at the recent Piazza Italia festival in Horsham town centre made the event an unquestionable success.
Conservative councillor Roger Paterson estimated that the town centre attracted about 110,000 visitors for the three-day event - and visitors flocking to Horsham in their thousands could become a more frequent occurrence.
Horsham District Council has announced a £60,000 scheme to develop a promotional campaign, aimed at increasing visitor interest in the town centre.
This is in addition to new, innovative parking technology which could replace the current system in the town as soon as the end of July.
At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday April 23, Helena Croft (Con, Roffey North), the cabinet member for Horsham town, communication and special projects, announced plans for a campaign aimed at attracting more visitors to the town centre.
The council says a ‘revenue supplementary estimate’ of £60,000 is needed to develop the campaign.
A report entitled ‘Promoting Horsham Town Centre’ compiled by Mr Paterson and Ms Croft was presented by the two councillors at the meeting.
Ms Croft said: “We are very fortunate to have a town centre which is the envy of several towns across the south of England. The town has weathered the recession well.
“I am confident this investment will more than pay for itself by enhancing the town’s reputation for shopping, eating and culture and for an increasing number of people.”
The promotional campaign will aim to increase the average ‘dwell time’ per visitor to 150 minutes, from the current average of 120 minutes.
Mr Paterson and Ms Croft’s report also states that the campaign aims to increase the average spend per person on their visit to Horsham town centre by ten per cent, for example from £10 to £11.
The town centre has witnessed a number of new developments in recent years, with the aim of increasing tourism in the area.
A number of restaurants have moved into units in East Street, making the road one of the most popular and successful venues in the region for cuisine.
Last year, £600,000 was spent on a redevelopment of West Street, which included new paving and lighting.
Next on the agenda is a restructuring and upgrading of the town’s parking system.
At the cabinet meeting, Mr Paterson (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) said: “We have a very safe, attractive and vibrant town centre and we have worked very hard to reach that point.
“Events such as Piazza Italia show how our partnership with local businesses works well.
“A crucial aspect of a safer town centre is the arrival of parking facilities. We will shortly be releasing time expire parking equipment with a new and thoroughly modern system which will offer much more flexibility to visitors and residents.”
He added that the council hopes to have some of the new equipment installed by the end of July.
The parking system involves the installation of ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) technology, which is widely used in airport car parks.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Paterson explained the system involves car park cameras recognising each vehicle on entry to the car park, so motorists do not need to purchase a ticket.
He said: “When a car goes into the car park it is recognised from its number plate, so people will be able to drive into the three main car parks without picking up a ticket.
“You go to the machine and tap in the first couple of numbers of the number plate, and then pay by debit card or credit card.
“It is both sensible and more importantly it should be attractive to visitors to Horsham. We believe it will be extremely popular, particularly to customers who just want to come in quickly.”
This option will be available in addition to the current methods of payment, including paying by cash.
There will also be a ‘special scheme’ to benefit residents of the district, Mr Paterson added.
He said: “There will be a special scheme for local residents, put together in a way that is as attractive as possible and recognises they are local residents and therefore have a stake in council car parks, but we haven’t got the detail of it yet.”
The report says the new technology will ‘enable easier payment, more flexible pricing and will improve the parking experience’.
Sue Rogers (Con, Steyning) welcomed the promotional campaign. She said: “I would like to see more promotion in Horsham in the south of the district.
“I don’t think people in Steyning think of Horsham as one of the first places to select when they start a shopping trip.
“Even those of us with basic understanding of economics will see the effect of £60,000 worth of investment in bringing people in to the town, and jobs will follow that.”
While the town centre appears vibrant, with the flourishing market and regular developments, it is a very different case for many high streets across the country.
David Holmes (LDem, Horsham Park) said: “If more people use our shops and restaurants our town can avoid the decline facing many town centres, indeed it should remain vibrant and could significantly improve further.
“More will continue to decline, however some town centres have the potential to prosper.
“Horsham town, with its character, markets, location and relatively prosperous population is one that could become even more vibrant, have better restaurants and a wider range of shops.”
Ms Croft’s proposal was supported by a number of members.
Leonard Crosbie (LDem, Trafalgar) said: “I am very pleased to see the decision has been made. £60,000 doesn’t go very far these days so I look forward to seeing what the agencies will offer us for that.”