Traders and business people in Horley have slammed borough councillors for rejecting a proposal for a cinema on the site of the former Newman House in favour of a shops, food outlets and homes development.
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council last week announced it had agreed to sell the town centre site to Thames Valley Housing Association (TVHA) for what it called the “landmark development” to be built by 2015.
The council said TVHA propose to build 1,100 sq metres of commercial floor space, including one large unit of 500 sq metres, on the corner of Victoria Road and Russells Crescent, and three smaller units of 200 sq metres on Victoria Road.
The council stated that about 90 one and two-bedroom apartments would be built above, 75 of which would be for shared ownership and 15 for affordable rent through TVHA, plus car parking.
Newman House, the vacant former Virgin Atlantic office block at the junction of Russells Crescent and Victoria Road, was demolished in the summer to make way for regeneration of the site, and to make it more attractive to potential investors.
Mrs Natalie Bramhall, borough council executive member for regeneration and property, said: “The site’s prominent location means it has a very important role to play in the ongoing regeneration of Horley town centre, to make it a more attractive place to live, work and do business.”
Coun Bramhall said: “We have been clear from the outset that we want a high quality redevelopment of the site that will encourage more people to visit the town centre for longer, in the evenings and to spend more locally, to boost the local economy. “TVHA’s proposals will achieve that.”
She said: “It will provide the type and size of premises needed to attract modern retailers and shoppers that are currently lacking, much-needed affordable housing to help local people to get onto the property ladder, a range of job opportunities and more spending power in the town.
“Importantly, the redevelopment of the site will boost confidence in Horley, not only from potential investors, but also existing businesses and residents, and act as a catalyst for further investment.”
On the cinema scheme, she said: “The supermarket and cinema proposal would have required the acquisition of a number of other land holdings, each under differing ownerships making site assembly complex.
“For this option to be deliverable, it would require use of Compulsory Purchase Orders to achieve this, lengthening the process and leaving the Newman House site vacant for longer.
“In addition, the council was unable to verify any firm cinema operator interest in Horley, meaning there is a risk an operator could not be secured.” She added that studies had shown the preferred location for a cinema would be in Redhill, given the existing cinema complex in Crawley, and the borough council executive had already agreed to develop the Marketfield way site to include a cinema, which already has confirmed interest from a number of operators.
Coun Bramhall continued: “We were not in a position to consult the local community on the options before us because they were commercially sensitive, and it was important our decision was based on commercial viability, deliverability and planning policy context if the scheme is to be successful.”
Council officers will now work with TVHA on the details of the sale. TVHA will then work up detailed plans for the site and apply for planning permission, with a view to completing the redevelopment in spring 2015.
On completion, the commercial floor space will be leased back to the council.
A borough council spokesman said: “Of the three offers received for the site, TVHA’s was considered to be the best over-all in terms of financial offer, likelihood and speed of delivery and contribution towards town centre regeneration.”
The council identified the regeneration of Horley town centre as a key priority in its Corporate Plan, which set a target for the council to work with its partners to redevelop the Newman House site for a major mixed-use development by 2015.
TVHA is one of the council’s preferred Registered Providers or housing associations.
But the council's decision has drawn fire from Horley and District Chamber of Commerce and the Horley Association of Traders.
And Horley Town Council chairman and mayor Dr Richard Olliver said they were not consulted until the decision was effectively a “fait accomplis.”
Dr Olliver said: “I think the borough council have made a bit of a mistake in how they have managed this.
“Usually they make very good decisions, but I don't think this is one of their better ones.”
Saying information from the borough council was “fairly sketchy” and so the town council does not know “the nuts and bolts” of the decision-making process and some criticism may be unfair, he said: “There's a lack of information and it's a terrible shame that local organisations were not consulted at some stage about what Horley needs.
“Certainly as a town council, we have a wealth of local knowledge amongst our membership. “It would have been nice to have been asked before what sort of thing we would like.”
And he said Horley “could use a cinema,” or “certainly a facility to show films, which could be in something else, rather like they have in the Harlequin Theatre.”
Horley and District Chamber of Commerce chairman Fiona Stimpson said she was “outraged” at the borough council's decision, while Andy Parr, chairman of the Horley Association of Traders, said it was “a fundamental decision that needs to be reassessed and rethought.”
Both attacked the borough council for not consulting enough on the issue, which they said was critical to the community's current fortunes and its future.
Ms Stimpson said: “I am absolutely outraged.
“There's been no consultation with the people of Horley whatsoever.
“The executive have made this decision for themselves.”
She said: “I feel very aggrieved and shall be writing to the council.
“That building was a business building. They are not putting any business back in that building whatsoever.
“They are just going to have stores and housing.
“There's plenty of space to me to have all three types of development.”
She said: “It's all very well to say having some residential units will bring people into Horley, but business people in Horley will go out at lunchtime in Horley and spend some money.”
And she said a cinema on the site could have had a dual use as a conference-type facility as well as a cinema.
“Why shouldn't Horley have a cinema? Apart from going out for a meal of an evening, there's nothing else for us to do,” she said. Mr Parr said: “We are bitterly disappointed by the council's decision.” He said: “Everyone in Horley and the surrounding area would have benefited, and the new cinema complex could have provided a new lease of life to a town which is already struggling. “Horley Association of Traders will attempt to address this issue and establish why Reigate and Banstead Borough Council decided against a cinema complex in Horley." He continued: “We need to understand why this has happened – why it needs to be built somewhere else rather than Horley.
“A lot of people would look on this as a lifeline for the rebirth of Horley.”
Mr Parr said the current trading and business climate in the town is “probably tougher than it's ever been.”
He said: “As chairman of the association of traders, I speak to a lot of people and a lot of people confide in me.
“I've got people coming to me who are really on the edge – in such a severe position.
“The local economy just cannot support what the landlords are asking for and the bills people are expected to pay.”
He said: “It's a very, very worrying situation to be in.”
He said: “We, as a group, are trying to pull together some strategy – some plan. It's essential that we are able to work with other stakeholders and one of the biggest ones is the council.
“We need to be able to engage with the borough council in a grown-up talk to understand why this has been turned down and what the decision-making process is behind this.”
He said: “I feel really sorry for the young people because there really is very little to do in the immediate area.
“Some people don't feel happy to send their children to Redhill.”