Refurbishment of Clair Hall rather than redevelopment is public’s preferred option

Mid Sussex councillors have agreed to set aside £100,000 to commission specialists to advise on options for the future of the Clair Hall.

Clair Hall in Haywards Heath is currently being used by the NHS as a Covid vaccination centre
Clair Hall in Haywards Heath is currently being used by the NHS as a Covid vaccination centre

During a meeting of the cabinet on Monday (December 20), members agreed with recommendations from their officers to invest in the site, in Haywards Heath.

Feasibility work will now be carried out to determine whether refurbishment or redevelopment should be the way forward.

A report to the meeting said: “For the refurbish option a full structural survey will be required of the existing buildings to assess their suitability for refurbishment and the extent of asbestos used within their construction.”

Councillor Jonathan Ash-Edwards (Mid Sussex Council Leader). Pic S Robards SR2107053 SUS-210507-160916001

The decision followed a 12-week consultation, which attracted more than 1,400 responses.

A report from Engage Communicate Facilitate – the independent organisation which ran the consultation – said the preference among those who took part was for the site to be refurbished rather than redeveloped.

It added: “Strong views were expressed that the future site should be retained in its current use – as a multifunctional community centre and resource.”

The £100,000 will be transferred from the general reserve and into a special reserve.

Lib Dems outside Clair Hall last September

Speaking after the meeting, leader Jonathan Ash-Edwards said: “I would like to thank all residents who have taken part in the recent exercise for sharing their views and aspirations for the Clair Hall site.

“I can confirm it is our intention to provide modern, fit for purpose facilities on the site.

“Ensuring that there are modern facilities that meet the needs of Mid Sussex residents is the best way of securing the site’s future for years to come.”

It’s been an eventful couple of years for the Clair Hall.

Lib Dem group leader Alison Bennett

The pandemic forced it to close in March 2020 and then the council announced that the closure would be permanent in September 2020.

It re-opened as a Covid vaccination site in the December. 

Meanwhile, concerns about the decision-making process saw campaigners issue proceedings in the High Court for a judicial review to overturn the closure decision on the grounds it was irrational and the council had acted unlawfully by failing to consult and failing to comply with procedures set in its constitution.

In January 2021, the council agreed a Consent Order by which it undertook to reconsider its decision.

Liberal Democrat councillors were less than happy that only cabinet members were involved in this latest decision.

Speaking after the meeting, Richard Bates (Lib Dem, Haywards Heath – Ashenground) said: “The Conservatives are trying to avoid answering questions from the public or from backbench councillors about what happens next at Clair Hall.

“By hiding behind the cabinet system, rather than bringing the latest report to a cross-party scrutiny committee, they have done nothing to build trust and co-operation either in the council or with the wider community.

“Yet again councillors in all parties are being treated like spectators rather than being fully involved in the decision-making process.

“People will rightly feel suspicious of [the council’s] reasons for taking this approach, which is a shame after they were seemingly keen to repair the damage they did when they arbitrarily closed Clair Hall in September 2020.”

Alison Bennett, Lib Dem group leader, added: “If MSDC was a Liberal Democrat council, we would be having serious conversations with all interested groups to ensure that Clair Hall is brought back into use once the NHS no longer require it. We fully support the provisions of modern community facilities in Haywards Heath and we do not want to see Clair Hall lie empty.

“By playing for time in this way, there is a very real risk of Clair Hall standing empty for years or for it to be demolished and the site left empty.

“You just need to look at what happened in Burgess Hill with the Martlets Hall to see the negative impact this sort of action can have on a town.

“Sadly, today’s report makes no assessment of the financial impact of keeping Clair Hall empty and has overlooked those community groups who are ready and able to step up and take on its management.”

A council spokesman said the decision needed to be made before January 13 in order to comply with the Consent Order.

He added that consultants ECF had held a special session for all district councillors who were given an opportunity to feed their views into the consultation process.

As well as agreeing to set up a special reserve, the cabinet also authorised officers to extend the licence for the NHS to continue to use Clair Hall as a vaccination centre into 2022.