It’s been a busy time in the political arena, both nationally and locally. Parliament has gone into recess and for the council it is a quiet month with many staff on holiday, so perhaps now is a good time to reflect on some of the council’s work during the past year, and think about some of the challenges that lie ahead.
All in all, against the backdrop of the huge and ongoing change within the council’s organisation which started 18 months ago, and continuing reductions in government grant to councils nationally, we have retained a focus on delivering new and improved services for people across the Horsham District while retaining our position of having one of lowest levels of council tax in the country.
Last week we launched a new website which is much easier to navigate and works easily across all digital equipment, now including tablets and mobile phones, giving a choice of how you want to communicate with us. Our doors of course remain open for those that want to see us face to face and our whole access for customers coming into the council and also on the phone has been changed to speed up the service. Try the new website out (www.horsham.gov.uk) and let us know what you think.
Planning has certainly been a highly controversial issue over the past year and will be a major topic for discussion after the summer as we move towards the public hearing of our 20 year Plan for homes and jobs by a government inspector.
Some might say that we were presented with yet a new challenge when Novartis announced that they are relocating out of Horsham. However, they are very determined about leaving a legacy in our district, and we are working with them to find an imaginative solution for the use of their site.
It has been particularly pleasing that many of our District’s communities now want to produce their own Neighbourhood Plans, which will involve their communities a lot more in their future development.
These Plans enable people to engage directly with their own locality, looking at existing and future community needs and drawing up ideas for everything from housing and jobs through to future schooling, shopping and recreation. It is a new, very different bottom-up approach to planning but it gives people in our villages and towns a real opportunity to shape the future for their own area.
Despite ever busier lives the numbers of people using the District’s leisure centres has been substantially increasing and we can look forward to the development of a new leisure centre at Broadbridge Heath, and throughout the District more enhancements at our existing leisure centres.
In Horsham town I reflect positively on the completion of the West Street enhancement programme which started at a time when the future of Britain’s high streets were challenged by internet competition and a deep economic recession.
More work is planned for the town, including better pedestrian circulation and way-finding signs which will encourage greater footfall to the quieter parts of the town and support businesses.
We can also look forward to new developments at the western side of the town as we will be gaining a John Lewis ‘At Home’ store and there will be big enhancements to the Bishopric area. Alongside this we are investing in the town’s car parks with the latest smart parking equipment. We will be one of the first districts to introduce this specialist equipment which will update some fairly ageing equipment and make parking easier in Horsham.
While all this is happening, we are of course getting on with delivering all our normal council services, from maintaining our excellent bin collection service through to streamlining how we handle planning applications and working with the county council in a more co-ordinated way. As I said at the beginning, we have been and continue to go through enormous changes and challenges in local government and we are fortunate that our greatest asset at the council is having staff ready to take on this challenge.