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February 2008 

The Town Hall
Chairman's letter to the Leader of Horsham District Council

23 February 2008

Mrs Elizabeth Kitchen
Horsham District Council
Park North
North Street
RH12 1RL

Dear Mrs Kitchen


The Horsham Society is greatly concerned by the report to the Council meeting next Wednesday on the future of the Town Hall which makes a mockery of the Council’s public consultations.

The Town Hall has long occupied a central position in the town and, as befits its position in Market Square, is regularly used for markets and for a wide range of other community activities.

Despite several decisions of the Council following recommendations by an advisory group in favour of a community use, these have not been supported at Cabinet level.

The report comments that “the building does not play a role in the delivery of the Council’s services” but while the Council has an obligation to manage its capital assets efficiently it is at least arguable that the Town Hall qualifies as a service on level terms with other community services such as Horsham Park, the Arts Centre and the Pavilions in the Park.

As regards running costs, the Society notes that the annual operating and maintenance costs total some £30,000 and the income total around £18,000, leaving a deficit of some £12,000 which is already met, in part at least, by the Special Charge on the unparished area. Notwithstanding that the building is listed Grade 2 and is in a Conservation Area it has received little attention in recent years and is not actively promoted. This may explain the limited use of the former Court Room on the ground floor and unavailability of the former Council Chamber on the first floor, for many years virtually restricted to storage.

Turning to capital costs, there is a need to meet the capital cost of some refurbishment. Whilst this might not be covered by the £206,000 earmarked for improvements to the Town Hall in this year’s budget, it is open to question whether the extent of the work proposed, and the levels of cost indicated in the Consultant’s report, is necessary. For example, while access for the disabled under the provisions of the DDA is desirable the means of access proposed is, to say the least, elaborate. Moreover, an additional £138,000 in funding is available in this year’s budget because the planned landscape improvements in Causeway have been deferred. The total available funding of almost £345,000 would go a long way towards essential refurbishments.

While the Society appreciates that a commercial use, perhaps of the particular kind proposed in the report, to the exclusion of a community use would exempt the Council from any further liabilities it considers that the Council has not made a sufficient case to go against the wishes of the residents of the town and the loss of its village hall would not have the support of public opinion.

The extremely short notice between the publication of the report and the Council meeting amounts to unreasonable haste and disregard for due process. We ask that a decision on the paper is deferred at least until the next Council meeting. We also suggest that before going any further the Council should hold a public referendum on its proposal.

I should be grateful if you would ensure that the Council is made aware of our views when it comes to consider the report.

I am copying this letter to the Chairman of the Council, Councillor Lindsay, the Chief Executive and the West Sussex County Times.

Yours sincerely

John Steele, Chairman
Oliver Palmer, Vice President; Chairman, Planning Committee