Andrew Blevins, managing director of Liberty Property Trust, the developer behind the proposals for North Horsham, answers questions on their plans.
Q) With the £4.5m investment in Littlehaven Railway Station, is it realistic to believe a new parkway station will be built with a cost estimated by one district councilor at £35/50m? Who would fund this new station? Has Network Rail approved the necessity and / or plans? How do you counter the claim this is just a pipe dream?
Andrew: As the developer, Liberty would be funding the new station and the costs would be much less than the £35/£50m mistakenly claimed. In fact, a recent Department for Transport press release confirms the costs of other new similar stations at Ilkeston, Derbyshire and Lea Bridge, London Borough of Waltham Forest both at £6.5m. Network Rail has confirmed that a new station on the Horsham to London line would be entirely feasible and improved journey times into London tangible for the first time. The way to ensure it does become a reality is for the people of Horsham to lend their support to the land North of Horsham scheme and lobby their councilors appropriately. Horsham deserves a new state-of-the-art park and ride railway station and its rightful place for maximum benefit to the town of Horsham is on the land North of Horsham development.
Q) Do you believe the necessity of a new business park has been established given the significant volume of empty office space in the Horsham district? What work has been done to establish the need?
Andrew: Quality business parks offering a premium environment attract large corporates with substantial employment requirements and we are already in discussion with companies who would like to move to land North of Horsham if we get the go-ahead. The current office space in the town is showing its age, it is not fit for purpose, that’s why it’s vacant, not because there isn’t demand. We know from our own extensive research that modern businesses need modern offices and we are currently monitoring about 1,000,000 sq ft of new office requirements looking for new modern offices – that equates to roughly 10,000 jobs. Horsham has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right now to become a major economic player in the Gatwick Diamond and our desire to invest shows our faith in the town.
Q) What would be the rough isolated cost of the business park, and what number of extra jobs would Liberty anticipate it creating?
Andrew: The infrastructure for the business park would cost several million pounds in addition to the cost of the railway station and we anticipate that up to 4,000 jobs will be created in the business park alone. In addition, as we will be creating a vibrant live, work, play environment with neighbourhood shops; restaurants and community facilities, there will be additional jobs resulting from those amenities too.
Q) Already the affordable homes commitment in the land North of Horsham development is 20/30%, lower than the 35% requirement set for developments of 15 properties or more. Given the slippage on affordable housing targets in current strategic sites in the district, can Liberty guarantee that on-site affordable housing will not slip below the current minimum marker of 20 per cent?
Andrew: The mix of homes in any development is a matter for the planning authorities and not the developer. However, we totally recognise this need and will work closely with the District Council and affordable housing providers to deliver this level. What we would also say is that, the quality of the affordable housing is as important as the number and Liberty has always chosen to build its affordable housing directly rather than take the usual delivery model of contracting to a house builder. We are also committed to widening housing choice for the community by offering, uniquely, an up-front self-build option.
Q) Proposals were described at a recent meeting of being in danger of creating an ‘orphaned community’. What community facilities will definitely be provided? Please list.
Andrew: We feel the suggestion bears no relation to the facts. If Oliver Twist, the nation’s most famous orphan could live in a new sustainable community where he could walk to school, enjoy sport and open natural space, buy his sweets from the local shops, take a bus, ride his bike or walk into Horsham town centre, take a train up to London for a day out and, when he was old enough, work close enough to home to leave his car in the garage, he’d be the first to say “please sir, can I have some more.”
Specifically, there will be convenience retail with an associated café and food offer as part of the parkway railway station. Centrally located there would be a supermarket, associated retail and eateries and with community support, possibly a regular farmers’ market. As we have done elsewhere, we also integrate modern leisure and recreational facilities and would restore the heritage buildings on site making them accessible to the public for the first time. As a company we have a policy of engaging with the existing community to find out what it wants on its development.
Q) If there are to be no new subways, please provide details of how the new development will be connected to the existing town. Bridges are unpopular and not used properly. What measures will be taken therefore to ensure the already busy A264 does not become overly congested with additional road level crossing points?
Andrew: We have done a full and detailed transport assessment, the methodology for which was agreed with West Sussex County Council and the Highways Agency, and have demonstrated that the local infrastructure, with some developer funded improvements, works. Furthermore, our proposals fit comfortably within the town’s existing highway network thus maximising the sustainability credentials of the development. We know linkage across the A264 is paramount and pedestrian/cycle friendly, at grade crossings, integrated with new access junctions on the A264 and/or footbridges over the A264 have already been proposed to fully bind this new community with the existing town.
Q) Timescale: When is a planning application expected? Spade in the ground? Completion date? Please provide order of construction too... developers are often criticised for building the houses first while communities wait years for road improvements and other community infrastructure projects?
Andrew: Assuming that land North of Horsham continues to be the preferred site, we would submit a planning application to run in parallel with the examination in public - which will follow in the District’s Local Development Framework process. Given the go-ahead, we would start promptly in 2015. A key reason for the site’s preferred status is its deliverability because there is already substantial infrastructure in place and it is almost ready to go. Hence, the first stage would be the known and costed infrastructure improvements, landscaping and retail amenities, which we estimate would cost in excess of £30million. Early infrastructure would open the business park and provide access for the railway station. The completion date is more difficult to predict, being demand led, but Liberty’s commitment is to be in it for the long game.
Q) Would representatives of Liberty attend a public meeting in Horsham, should one be arranged before the consultation ends, to answer public questions?
Andrew: Based on previous experience we have found people prefer to meet us with our expert advisors in a more informal workshop setting, which we will organise at the right time. At this stage of the process, we have offered overview meetings to the local parish councils and some of those have agreed to meet. A prudent decision, knowing that’s how they will get a better, first-hand understanding of the true proposals and a chance to discuss any real concerns they have on behalf of their constituents. We will be very much in listening mode. A web site for land North of Horsham will be going live soon – www.landnorthofhorsham.com.
Q) Can you clarify once and for all is the site on Green Belt land?
Andrew: No, the land in question is absolutely and categorically not green belt. What’s more the land is currently largely inaccessible to the public but, as a part of our development proposals, we plan to create extensive greenways and foot and cycle paths for the public to enjoy. We would also greatly improve and reinforce areas of natural habitat, including existing waterways, integrating them where appropriate into the wider scheme, thus becoming available for public access.
Q) What is Liberty’s track record in creating new communities and business environments?
Andrew: I think it’s fair to say that in 1974 with Great Valley Corporate Centre, near Philadelphia, Liberty invented the business park at a time that there were none in the UK. Nearer to home, at our flagship development in Kings Hill, we have created a lively community with more than 200 businesses of all sizes employing in excess of 5,000 people.
Nearly 8,000 people live there and, incredibly, a third of residents actually work on site! As well as a Waitrose, Asda and many other retail outlets there are restaurants, cafes and a pub. There is an 18-hole golf course, cricket pitch, David Lloyd leisure centre and a sports park with grass and artificial pitches. There are also two new primary schools, a doctors’ surgery and various community amenities and we have respectfully restored the original Control Tower which remains from the site’s heritage and former use as a WWII airfield – www.kings-hill.com.
To this day we remain proud to say that ‘business parks are-us,’ both nationally and internationally and, because of that expertise, household names are attracted to the high quality environments that we invest in heavily. Familiar names at Kings Hill include Rolex, Kimberly-Clark and Barclays Bank. Our state of the art biomedical research campus in Cambridge will be home to 2,500 new jobs when the construction of AstraZeneca’s new global research and development headquarters is completed in 2016.