A ‘shocked’ employee said the news that Novartis could close its entire Horsham site was ‘not on their radar’ as they thought their jobs were safe in the town.
The member of staff, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to the County Times as the pharmaceutical firm prepared to talk to every Horsham employee on a one-to-one basis about their future with the firm.
She said this week: “We’re all in complete shock here, something like this just wasn’t on the radar.
“As a well performing disease area, we thought that our excellent results would mean that respiratory research was safe here in Horsham. It seems that Britain is now closed for research.”
During an exclusive interview with this newspaper Sue Webb, Novartis country president, stressed these plans are part of a global strategy and not as a result of the ‘good work’ which had been done at the Horsham site.
She said staff will be offered the chance to relocate.
This will follow a 90-day consultation due to finish in February next year.
“These decisions aren’t taken lightly - it’s a massive impact. It’s the right decision globally for the company, but we will deal with all our people individually,” said the country president.
Reacting to the news David Moore, chairman of the Horsham Society, said he was shocked as he, like many others, believed the future of the research and development unit on the site was secure.
He added: “Unfortunately, it appears that this will also disappear with even more job losses.
“Inevitably thoughts turn to the future of the site. It would be ideal for housing and lessen the need for greenfield development, but it is important that Horsham District Council ensures that the Novartis headquarters building, which is locally listed, and the avenue leading up to it from Wimblehurst Road, are preserved within whatever schemes may come forward.
“The council must show leadership and move quickly to prepare a design brief for the site to guide developers.”
HDC’s consultation on its preferred housing strategy, which will set out where and how many houses are built in the district over the next 20 years, closed on October 11.
Many campaigners criticised HDC for not putting enough effort into identifying brownfield sites, instead relying on greenfield sites, such as north of the A264, where 2,500 homes and a new business park is being proposed.
Residents Against Greenfield Erosion, who have campaigned against the scheme north of Hosham, said the Novartis site could either be used as an alternative location for a new business park, or for smaller high-density properties for first time buyers and senior residents looking to down size from family homes.
Geoffrey Richardson, another campaigner against the north of Horsham development, said that while the potential loss of jobs was very sad for the town, he thought the news proved that the council should be looking to attract small and medium sized businesses, rather than large firms.
He added: “The freeing of the Novartis space is clearly another nail in the coffin of HDC’s preferred strategy.”
However Adam Walker, of Crickmay Chartered Surveyors, said the likelihood of losing another key employer in the town reaffirmed the need for a new high-quality business park to attract new companies to Horsham.