John Lewis at Home is being suggested as the centrepiece of a £35m redevelopment of the Bishopric area of Horsham town centre if negotiations, now at an advanced stage, proceed.
Although no-one has officially confirmed the involvement of John Lewis, the County Times understands a new and expanded Waitrose store could also occupy a significant proportion of 75,000 square feet of new retail space in the town. Waitrose is part of the John Lewis partnership.
Dubbed a ‘new West End’ for Horsham by the district council, developers Westrock are expected to publish plans for public comment towards the end of next month.
“We’ve been working on this scheme for over 12 months now and have acquired a number of the assets involved to assemble the site,” development director at Westrock Robin Barton told the County Times.
“We are now in discussion with the existing occupiers on the site with a view to finding suitable relocation sites for their activities.”
The Albion Way development site, just to the north of the Currys and Staples stores, includes the Lifestyle Ford dealership and the home of the Horsham Bowling Club.
New and improved facilities have been pledged elsewhere in the town for both parties, who at this stage are bound by confidentiality agreements in respect of the development plans.
However, the chairman of Lifestyle Europe Marc Matthew did confirm they are aware of the district council’s ambitions for Horsham but wished to reassure valued customers and staff the company remains committed to the town.
Meanwhile, the chairman of Horsham Bowling Club Mike Powell said: “I cannot comment at this stage other than to acknowledge that the plans are in place.”
The County Times understands the club, the second bowling club in the town having to relocate due to the council’s development ambitions, is yet to put the deal that is on the table to its members.
The leader of Horsham District Council Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry) told this paper: “In recent years we have seen the renaissance of East Street through the encouraging private investment in restaurant and leisure uses which have given a real identity to this quarter of the town.
“Our challenge now is to improve the shopping offer in the town centre.
“The Albion Way site is key to providing an anchor at this end of the town that will give
a lift to West Street and Bishopric.”
Mr Barton gave more details of the new town centre retail quarter: “Overall the scale of what we are talking about is probably something in the order of 75,000 sq ft of new retail floor space.
“It could represent a £35million investment in the town centre,” he added, confirming further that Westrock’s plans follow with the guidelines the council put forward in its Town Plan.
Published in 2012, the Horsham Town Plan provides a planning structure for Horsham town centre based on the council’s findings, aspirations and priorities.
In a section dedicated to the Bishopric it talks of the ‘creation of a high quality western extension to Horsham town, which seeks to refresh the town centre’s retail offer’.
“Comprehensive development will be considered in this area to enable provision of flexible retail units and provision for a high quality anchor store,” the document says.
The County Times understands the ‘anchor store’ in question to be a John Lewis at Home – the latest offering from the John Lewis Group which focuses on electrical, home and technology products.
Chichester secured a popular John Lewis at Home store last year, while those behind the Town Centre North development in Crawley hope John Lewis will also commit to their town.
A spokesperson for the John Lewis Partnership however remained taciturn regards any new Horsham premises: “We continue to seek a suitable location for a new shop in the area. John Lewis is often linked to available sites and retail led developments but we don’t comment on market speculation.”
Addressing speculation that Waitrose would expand from its current Piries Place premises to the new retail development, a spokesperson said: “Waitrose is firmly committed to continuing to trade in Horsham and we are always looking at ways we can improve our offer for our customers.
“Whilst we are aware of this proposal, there is no agreement in place to relocate our existing store as part of it.”
Mr Barton from Westrock told the County Times: “We are talking to some very strong national retailers, but we are not at the stage where we can confirm the retailers.
“We would hope to be so in around about a month’s time when we have details of the scheme further advanced.
“We’d love to be out in the public domain but there are details to be resolved and courtesies to be extended to those parties that we are talking to that we don’t want to cut across.”
But Mr Barton remained confident a new West End for Horsham would become a reality, citing Horsham Dsitrict Council as ‘absolutely first rate’, and how ‘refreshing’ it is to work with a ‘constructive and positive council’.
He added: “We’re invested heavily with our partners in the acquisitions that we have made already. We would not have done that if we weren’t confident of the scheme going ahead.”
In terms of time scale, Mr Barton hoped the first spade in the ground could occur by the end of this year, with the proviso ‘everything else can be put in place’.
“That means sorting out the relocation of the existing occupiers, resolving planning and infrastructure issues etc.
“All being well, it should be possible to have the scheme up and trading by the end of next year, 2014,” he said.
For more details of the ‘new West End for Horsham’ plans, including potential environmental, pedestrian and transport changes to Albion Way, plus further reaction and comment, see future editions of the County Times.
By Theo Cronin
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