Judy Holmes, Assistant Chief Executive, introduced the report. She noted that any decision relating to the lease of the Redwood Centre is separate to any decision made about Clair Hall and that Cabinet received 51 representations and a petition against the closure of the Hall.
The Leader thanked the public for submitting the representations and for the petitions. He stated that Cabinet had considered them all carefully. He asked whether further clarity could be provided about the responsibilities of Place Leisure (PL) in the contract to administer Clair Hall.
The Assistant Chief Executive confirmed that there were no restrictions placed on PL and the contract required them to operate Clair Hall in the same way they operate the leisure centres. She turned to the Divisional Leader for Commercial Services and Contracts to provide the utilisation data for 2019.
Rob Anderton, Divisional Leader for Commercial Services and Contracts, outlined the headline figures of total usage compared to capacity in the study; 53% for the Main Hall, 54% for Studio, 42% of Function Suite, 17% for the Dressing Rooms.
The Leader noted that the government guidance advises people not to meet in person and instead meet electronically as well as reducing the number of members from different households meeting. He said that the vast majority of the users would not be able to hire the hall, even if the hall could accommodate them.
The Divisional Leader for Commercial Services and Contracts highlighted that live performances require social distancing which means they can only operate at 25% capacity which does not make it economically viable.
The Cabinet Member for Environment and Service Delivery thanked all the residents who expressed concern over the closure of the Hall. He noted the usage of the Hall, notwithstanding the restrictions imposed to control the pandemic, was declining and that in the Haywards Heath Masterplan 2007 Clair Hall was described as ‘outdated’. He believed that this was an opportunity to look at the future of the site. He asked whether the word ‘potential’ could be removed from the recommendation to give residents more confidence.
The Cabinet Member for Economic Growth questioned the income projections for the proposed temporary car park.
The Assistant Chief Executive explained that the forecasts were based on 60/70% capacity. She added that there is a flexible monitoring mechanism with the Budget Management Reports.
The Cabinet Member for Economic Growth discussed relocation of users. He believed that the Council worked effectively to relocate users of the Martlets Hall and couldn’t see why it can’t be done here. He wanted to ensure that all voices were heard, not just the loudest and ensure that the taxpayer’s money is not wasted paying for a venue that is underused and could be improved.
The Cabinet Member for Community stated that Clair Hall was currently in the situation where it required maintenance investments. He mentioned that venues require 65% capacity just to break even therefore it would not be viable to hold events given the current restrictions. He believed that the bookings could be accommodated elsewhere, perhaps at nearby schools which would further the income that the local schools receive.
The Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning understood residents’ concerns and understood that it is hard taking away a building that so many people have cherished. He noted that it will cost a significant amount of money to bring the building up the minimum requirement for efficiency, with the new legislation being implemented in March 2023. He added that building standards were very different when the building was built.
The Cabinet Member for Customer Services believed that closing the facility was right, especially in light of the continuing presence of the virus and the ongoing drop in usage. She stated that the Council has a duty to meet not just the needs of the residents currently but the future needs of the town as well.
The Deputy Leader mentioned that the building hasn’t been fit for purpose since 2007. She highlighted that there are extra facilities in the district and this opportunity allows the Council to look and see what is best for Haywards Heath. She wanted to make something good out of a poorly appearing building and something to match the new development already in the area.
The Leader explained that whilst many residents have used the facility in the past, it is unfortunately past its heyday. The Hall needs to meet the needs of the residents of not only Haywards Heath but also the residents of surrounding areas. He stressed the importance of understanding the business case and understanding the needs of the residents which may be subject to change given the current pandemic. He hoped that users would engage with the Council in due course to grasp the opportunity that has been presented.
He took the Members to the recommendations with the exclusion of the word ‘potential’, contained in the report and amended recommendation which were agreed unanimously.
(i) agree to the continued and permanent closure of Clair Hall with immediate effect;
(ii) agree to establish a temporary public car park at Clair Hall; and
(iii) request officers to commission work to develop a business case for the inclusion of a modern community facility as part of the future regeneration of this site or other sites in the town centre.