Horsham Park should be an ‘integral part’ of the town centre in ten years' time, a retail chief has said.
Swan Walk shopping centre manager Gill Buchanan insisted links between the town and the park must be improved in the next decade to safeguard Horsham's future.
She said: “Horsham Park is a huge missed opportunity. It’s how you use the space.
“The linkages [between the town centre and the park] and how we open up avenues in effect - to make Horsham park an integral part of Horsham town centre.
“I have been here for 25 years. On the one hand we have seen massive change in the high street - probably for the last five to seven years town centres and high streets have not just been about shopping.
“Culture is going to be a huge part of town centres: soft play, cinemas."
Gill added that in the next decade the town needs to do 'more of the same' by building on its existing leisure offering.
Horsham District Council cabinet member for Horsham town Peter Burgess said ensuring Horsham changes ‘in the right way’ is essential.
He echoed the town centre’s need to adapt in order to stay competitive.
Councillor Burgess added: “[The town is] changing and we have got to make sure it changes in the right way.
“Horsham used to be a day time shopping centre.
“Hopefully it will stay that way but we have got to compete with online. The shops have got to change we have got to help them change.”
Horsham’s nightlife nightmare
The town’s nightlife has been widely criticised for a lack of variety.
A BBC survey which asked more than 1,000 people aged under 26 to rate locations around the UK slated Horsham, rating it just 3/10.
The town was rated 0/10 for nightlife, 1/10 for sports facilities and 1/10 for bus services.
Gill said: “[The nightlife] market will have to be looked at. More late night venues absolutely are going to be important.
“There’s absolutely a weakness and a gap there.
“You have to be all things to all people to all points but you should only do it if you can do it well.”
Councillor Burgess added: “You have got cinemas you have got restaurants so what’s a nightclub going to do - it’s going to bring in younger people.”
He urged the importance of catering for all generations, but said late night facilities need to be supported with transport links.
This is a view backed up by Horsham resident James Oxenham.
He said: “I would like more stuff for young people. Nightlife is lacking.
“I would like to see a greater variety of activities and entertainments for teenagers and young adults.”
James added he thought there ‘wasn’t much draw’ for younger people to come into the town centre.
He said: “What I really would like in Horsham - some sort of dedicated sports bar.
“We have got the Rec [Rooms] now but I’d very much like a sports bar offering [in the town centre].”
James also called for a larger variety of stores in the town.
He added: “I would like a greater variety of retailers.
“More retailers for young people - whether that’s independents or national retailers that serve more men's [products] and young people.”
He added he wants to see more provision of clothing for those under thirty.
Horsham shouldn’t become a ‘dormitory town’
Gill warned Horsham shouldn’t change into a commuter town.
She said: “We have to be very very careful that we do not end up as a dormitory town.
“We have to be prepared to react and I think the priority for Horsham in the next ten years is to be on the front foot.”
In 2017 Horsham’s average salary was more than £33,500 according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
This is above the national average of £29,588 (ONS, 2018).
Malcolm Willis, chairman of watchdog group the Horsham Society, warned infrastructure is crucial to growing Horsham’s appeal and retaining a population.
He said: “We need employment. We don’t want people just moving to Horsham and working elsewhere we want them to be part of Horsham.
“We have a fantastic town. We’re so lucky to be able to walk everywhere.
“We have got so much around us. There’s a lot and we need to make people more aware of it.
“It’s a centre that could be used far more.”
Councillor Burgess added: “We give such an eclectic shopping and restaurant and leisure experience… and the ability to park. Try and park in Crawley - sometimes not easy.
“You can come into Horsham you can see all these shops [but] we’re missing certain shops, antique shops.”
Good transport links are key in ensuring North Horsham residents choose Horsham over Crawley, he added.
Councillor Burgess said: “If we can make Horsham easy to get around, well signposted, looking attractive, looking at street furniture so it’s not obstructive [then that will be key in retaining people in Horsham].”
More specialist stores
Drew Dewsall, owner of Gobsmack Comics in Swan Walk, is calling for more specialist shops in the town centre.
He said: “I would like to see more independent retailers in Horsham than there are now.
“When I first moved into Horsham one of the things that really attracted me to the town was the number of quirky, smaller independents.”
This view was echoed by County Times readers. In a poll on Facebook 71 per cent voted in favour of having more specialist shops whereas only 29 per cent wanted more leisure facilities.
The Horsham District Planning Framework backed this up. According to the report it hopes Horsham will become a ‘distinctive high quality experience’.
Councillor Burgess added: “One of the things we really want to do is make sure that there’s a good range, a total range of shops.
“I would like to see more specialist shops here.”
He added it was important to make the entrance routes to Horsham appealing to visitors.
Gateways into Horsham
Councillor Burgess hit out at Queens Street as being in need of improvement.
He said: “Another thing we have to do is promote the gateways.
“Perhaps the most extreme area [is Queens Street]. It’s a very important [gateway].
“The whole area there could be really really good.
“There needs to be a major change. It’s a main entrance to the town.”
Your say on Horsham's future
Readers called for the town centre to become more green in the future in a discussion on the County Times Facebook page.
Clare Beacham said: “[I want] more trees and plants, less tarmac. Green car parks.”
Teresa Kisza Sturt urged stakeholders to ‘leave it alone’.
She added: “Don’t ruin it by turning it into a concrete jungle and taking away the beauty from this historic town."
Paula Jane Cunningham added she would like to see a ‘very green’ town centre.
Ruth Nuttall called for ‘less car traffic/more electric vehicles, more independent shops and less empty units’.
Residents urged key stakeholders to solidify Horsham’s identity and uniqueness.
Bryn Thompson said: “Would be nice not to have it completely turned into Crawley.”
Lorraine Smith warned the town had ‘lost its character’.
Teresa added: “It’s supposed to be an old market town.”