‘Rookwood should be retained as an amenity for the town’, says Horsham group

Much has been written about the Draft Horsham District Local Plan 2019-2036 published in February 2020.
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Chapter 6 Housing shortlisted large scale strategic sites of 800 homes or more. All nine sites are in the north of the district and all are greenfield land, which must be expected in this rural county of West Sussex.

The one strategic site within the limits of Horsham Town is land at Rookwood The latest revised proposal from HDC is to provide approximately 750 homes. This revision to the number of homes, following the principles of the draft plan, takes Rookwood outside the category of being a strategic site for consideration.

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The Draft Local Plan Strategic Policy 15 sets out the nine Strategic Site Development Principles.

Rookwood Golf Centre, Robin Hood Ln, Horsham, Warnham. Pic Steve Robards SR20012702Rookwood Golf Centre, Robin Hood Ln, Horsham, Warnham. Pic Steve Robards SR20012702
Rookwood Golf Centre, Robin Hood Ln, Horsham, Warnham. Pic Steve Robards SR20012702

Principle 4 states proposals will be expected to consider how these can accommodate any District-wide leisure facilities. Rookwood is already an amenity as a golf course and a green space, accessible to the general public.

Principle 6 states development will be expected to contribute to the achievement of zero carbon through a range of measures. Rookwood already achieves this principle of zero carbon.

Principle 7 states master plans will be expected to identify key areas of biodiversity enhancement, demonstrating that a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain can be achieved….and wider green infrastructure provision. Rookwood is an important part of the green corridor in the town and, at night, it is an uninhabited dark space for wildlife to flourish. There is only limited amenity green space for people to enjoy. Once built on there is no going back.

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Much has been written by HDC that the District Council finances are under pressure and that the 50% of the money gained from the sale of Rookwood for homes is needed to cover future forecast revenue shortfalls.

The capital budget was reduced in 2020-21 from £15.7M to £8.4m mainly due to a reduction in revenues caused by Covid-19. The loss from car parking was about £500k. Interestingly this revenue shortfall set aside plans to invest £3M in commercial property.

HDC has for many years invested council tax receipts in property on the basis that these will provide future financial income. One example, in 2017 the Councillors gave the go-ahead to purchase the Forum in the Town Centre. The £15M investment was funded through a range of sources including cash and borrowing. In total, 76,625 sq ft of accommodation is currently let to four retail tenants and the ownership of the 472 space Blackhorse Way car park.

Property investment in anticipation of future income is a risky policy, returns can increase and just as easily decrease. Generally, these investments are not easily converted to cash when needs require.

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Property adds little to the residents of Horsham wellbeing, whereas the amenity green space at Rookwood ticks so many of the written principles exuded by HDC. Surely one should expect Councillors, and the actions they take, to live up to their stated principles and retain Rookwood as an amenity for all of us.

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