Spotlight on Horsham

In the beginning Horsham was a good place to breed horses. Today inhabitants champion open space, the South Downs and an effortless commute to London...explore Horsham

In the beginning Horsham was a good place to breed horses. Today inhabitants champion open space, the South Downs and an effortless commute to London. Maheesha Kottegoda ventures into the charming district to explore the state of Horsham as a place to work, rest and play...

Shelley Fountain Originally lauded by Horsham District Council (HDC) as ‘a bold and imaginative sculpture which vividly conveys the modern non-conformist nature of Horsham’s famous poet’, Shelley Fountain soon saw the local authority losing money hand over fist.The initial commission and installation was estimated at �101,000. However, the true cost of Angela Conner’s Rising Universe ended up being nearer the �150,000 mark not including increasing amounts spent fixing it. HDC’s director of development and environment, Ray Lee, says the controversial creation has cost the taxpayer �120,000 in repairs and maintenance in the last six years. “It has been unpredictable,” he says. “Everyone knew it was a radical idea, ahead of its time. With that is a risk and the chief executive of the time decided it was a risk they were willing to take. There’s no doubt it has been very iconic.” That’s one way of putting it. Others have lampooned the ‘radical sculpture for a radical man’ for being ‘unspeakably hideous’, ‘a ghastly monstrosity’ and ‘a waste of money from day one’. Public opinion, on consultation, was found to be 60 per cent in favour of removing the artwork. A view in line with councillor Robert Nye’s.“We would be better off replacing it with something that’s more in keeping with the town,” he says. “I don’t hate it in the way other people do. There is a view that people have grown used to it. At the end of the day, in times of recession we have to count the pounds, shillings and pence. We could be plugging money into it indefinitely.” The Old Town HallFrom throwing money into a black hole of art maintenance HDC appears to have come full circle with its latest move to cash in on the Old Town Hall.The use of the 17th century building was hotly debated by the Blue Flash Music Trust who pitched for a community folk and arts centre.“A lot of artists find they do not have access to venues in the Horsham area,” says long-time resident and member of the Trust, Robert Mayfield. “What we have been trying to do is open up the town hall for community use. We consider it to be ideal for the community generally.” The Old Town Hall in Market Square has undergone several transformations over the years from an arms store in 1648, a butter and poultry market in 1721 and law courts in 1949. It was here ten Sussex magistrates charged acid bath murderer, John George Haigh.Fast forward 50 years and it is a restaurant. One resident says: “I think we need another restaurant as much as we need another bank, estate agency, building society (delete as applicable).”Councillor Nye, backed the decision to choose Bill’s Produce Store over a community centre and calls the idea ‘a good outcome for everyone’.“I have quite a lot of sympathy with community use except for a number of factors,” he says. “There is abundant space for that type of use within Horsham . The Drill Hall is within 100m and it is owned and run by the council. We have all sorts of other buildings around the town centre.“Had we let it out to the community groups that asked it would have cost us �60,000 a year to maintain it, whereas now we have a private company that will pay for the restoration and produce an income in the range of �60-80,000. Commercial use does not cost the taxpayer money. There will be an art gallery in there” “I believe the user pays unless the user can’t afford to. If you can afford to pay, and a lot of people in this area can afford to pay, it is a leisure choice and you should pay for it yourself. You shouldn’t expect the rest of the community to pay for you.” ARTS Horsham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society take a different view.Chairman, Ray Fisher, would love a hand promoting shows and a little help supporting the rising costs of treading the boards. He argues local arts take a back seat to visiting performers and called on HDC to redress the balance.   “Outside entertainers putting on a show pay lesser rates than the local amateur group,” he says. “The reason is when the professionals come they will pay very little at the theatre and share the box office takings. We are simply not in a position to do that. We need HDC to have different rates for local people than they do professionals.”The society has occupied an affectionate place in the hearts of Horsham theatre-lovers for nearly 60 years. Each year amateurs perform two musicals and a play for an audience of 4-5,000 but rising costs and publicising shows is proving tough.“Our big problem is the difficulty in advertising what we do because the county council are very strict, possibly a little too strict, on bill posters,” adds Ray. “We used to be able to put posters up on the side of the road but we can’t any longer.” In contrast the Capitol Theatre claims to be going from strength to strength during the economic downturn. By the end of October tickets for The Night Before Christmas and Cinderella had almost sold out across 36 performances.“Although people say there’s a recession, I think most have been careful with their leisure income,” says Capitol Theatre manager, Michael Gattrell. “We are thriving but I do think there should be a lot more provision for entertainment within the outlying villages. I would love to go out a lot more and take entertainment out there. It would help if transport links from places like Storrington are improved.”

PEOPLEIn nearly every respect, people in Horsham are healthier than the national average. Men and women live longer with fewer deaths from cancer, heart disease and strokes. “By far the biggest single factor behind this is relative affluence, and all the other things that go with that - good housing, healthy diets, low rates of smoking, good educational achievement and a good environment,” says NHS West Sussex’s Lesley-Anne Williams. “That is not to say that everything is perfect, of course, because there are plenty of people in the area who do not enjoy all these things, and who have real health needs.”People in deprived areas, defined as Chantry, Pulborough and Coldwatham, Rusper and Colgate and Roffey South, have a shorter life expectancy than the rest of Horsham by two to three years. “A big challenge for us in Horsham is access to services,” adds Lesley-Anne. “That doesn’t just mean the distance to the nearest hospital –people face the problem of isolation, and problems finding support locally. Increasingly we must find new ways of getting our services closer to people’s homes. Crawley and Arun recently opened Health and Wellbeing centres, and a key priority for us is to develop one for Horsham too.”Population trends show young people breaking away from the area for work and affordable housing leaving a rapidly ageing community behind. Between 1996 and 2006, the working age population increased by 6%, whilst the over 65 population increased by 15%. Over the same period, the over 85 population increased by 20%. Current projections estimate an increase of 10,000 over 65s in the next 20 years. Horsham’s 2009 health profile highlighted the district’s most pressing concerns as the lack of physical activity in children and road death/injury. Both of these problems were seen to be significantly higher in Horsham than anywhere else in the country. ECONOMYPockets of empty offices give the impression Horsham’s economy has seen better times but local businesses are cautiously optimistic that they are through the worst. Roughly 900 jobs were axed at Sun Alliance in February but discounting the insurance giant’s contraction, offices space is simply not being absorbed by other companies. Chairman of the Horsham Chamber of Commerce and Industry John Lytton explains there are many factors at work. “Horsham is not seen as a place to go because a lot of the office space is quite old and tired and probably has relatively high maintenance costs,” he says. “It is no longer quite up to the market and an awful lot of business activity in Horsham is people operating as micro businesses and operating from their own homes.”   Although the business demographic errs heavily on the side of smaller businesses, office provision for them tends to be more expensive than those for larger companies.   “Someone needs to address that issue of the next stage for the person who has outgrown his living room and garage,” John adds.“With large spaces of 100,000 sq ft, you will have people falling over backwards to rent it to you at 10 to 15 pounds a square foot but small office space costs 50 per cent more than that.To survive, it has been said the district must carve itself a niche and build itself a reputation around specialist areas. One option might be to capitalise on its connection with pharmaceutical giant Novartis, creating a centre of science and innovation. “To some extent Horsham is under the shadow of Crawley so we can’t be competing with Crawley head-on, we have to offer something a bit different,” says John. “If Horsham turned itself into a business area for green industries that would be different.”

Have your sayGot an opinion on any of the issues raised in Sussex Life magazine? We’d love to hear it. Share your views by commenting below - or post a feed in the forum to share your opinions on Horsham’s future, MPs’ expenses and much more.

Question time

As the Conservative MP for Horsham, Francis Maude answers our questions

Q: You claimed almost �35,000 in two years for mortgage interest payments on a London flat when you owned a house just a few hundred yards away. Several MPs have stood down over the expenses scandal, why are you continuing?A: I was much encouraged, when the expenses issue arose, by a number of people, who said: ‘once we looked at what you had done it seemed perfectly reasonable. You are a first class MP and we want you to stay.’Sir Thomas Legg has done a thorough job. Two hundred MPs have been asked to repay money. I have not been asked to repay anything.Even if [the goalposts] had been fantastically widened it would not include my situation. I was able to justify what I did both within the spirit and the letter of the rules. I never claimed anything that was not legitimate expenses for my legitimate second home, people have accepted that.

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Q: You had another property one minute’s walk from the one you claimed for. It has been claimed you wanted to downsize and that’s why you rented out your property and lived in one paid for by the taxpayer. Why didn’t you just sell the London property you owned and buy something smaller?A: I did not want to. This is a house we had bought with our own money not supported by the taxpayer. It was a family asset. It was completely appropriate to decide to use it for the benefit of the family.

Q: You have given up your 2nd, 3rd and 4th jobs in time for the election. Will you be resuming these, in your words "handsomely paid", roles after the election?A: No. We are hopeful that we might win the election and if we win and I am fortunate enough to be in the government I would not be able to.

Q: What if you lose, will you resume your other jobs then?A: It is too far ahead to think about.

Q: What is your opinion on Shelley Fountain? Should it stay or go?

A: I don’t think it is a thing of great beauty. I have never understood what its connection with Shelley is meant to be but I think it is lovely that something can commemorate a connection. It is controversial. It sounds like it is not worth getting the machinery working again.

Q: What is your opinion on the use of the Old Town Hall?A: It needs to be for community use. Horsham is not short of restaurants. I would be very content with community use. It is a lovely building.

Q: The PCT have ruled out a new hospital. What alternative ways will you and Henry Smith be looking at to take the campaign for a new hospital forward?A: What we are looking at is the scope for a hospital which would be a partnership between the local authority and the private sector primarily for NHS patients. A genuine Public-Private partnership. Local authorities would have a serious stake but it would be run by the private sector in order to enable it to be financed as quickly and effectively as possible.

Q: At the Capitol Theatre before the last general election you said you thought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were a good idea because it brought democracy to those countries. Do you still hold that view?A: I believe it. Iraq is a better place for not being run by a monstrous dictator. I think it was the right thing to do and Iraq is better off for it. In Afghanistan the elections are by no means perfect but I think it is a sizeable improvement on what went before.

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