May Day frustration at town hall sell-off

On their annual May Day celebration, Morris Dancers show their displeasure at the council's decision to sell off the town hall.
On their annual May Day celebration, Morris Dancers show their displeasure at the council's decision to sell off the town hall.

MORRIS Dancers celebrating the start of May in the town centre took the opportunity to register their disgust at council plans to dispose of Horsham Town Hall.

The Broadwood Morris Men, based at the Holbrook Club in Horsham, were out in force on Tuesday May 1 performing traditional dances in the Carfax to welcome the start of summer, an annual tradition performed since 1972.

The protest comes as Horsham District Council is evaluating bids received before the April 12 deadline, which they will discuss in two weeks’ time.

Dave Toye, of Broadwood Morris Men, said: “Personally I think it is disgusting that the council would contemplate selling off the town hall.

“Generally the feeling is that it should not be sold. The town hall would have been an ideal base for the Morris Men,” he added.

The County Times understands that Bill’s Produce, a successful food outlet originally from Lewes, is one of the bids awaiting council scrutiny.

With an original premises in Lewes, and new branches in Cambridge, Covent Garden and Brighton, Bill’s Produce’s bid for the town hall back in 2010 failed to progress due to delays caused by campaigners battling to keep the historic building for community use.

This week HDC would not be drawn on who has made bids for the building.

A spokesperson said: “The bids are currently being evaluated in accordance with the evaluation matrix.

“The next stage is that a report is being drafted for consideration at the council meeting on May 15 and will be available on the council’s website (www.horsham.gov.uk) five days before the meeting.”

Meanwhile Blue Flash Music Trust spokesman Robert Mayfield has expressed his frustration that a bid submitted by the group will not even be considered by the council.

In a statement he said: “This is most unfair.

“All the evidence points to the cabinet approaching our resubmitted bid, one that was previously approved and recommended after due diligence by the Old Town Hall Advisory Group, with a closed mind.

“As far as we are concerned, if the council does not withdraw its decision and rerun the process fairly for all participants, it risks being the first council to fall foul of the Localism Act.

“In our view, the council doesn’t just risk its own reputation with what has undoubtedly been a shambolic process, not conducted in accordance with district auditor advice, but we feel it also unfairly risks the reputation of Horsham’s MP and cabinet office minister Francis Maude who has been a key player in the Big Society agenda.

“In our view, all the evidence suggests that we have been treated very unreasonably once more.

“We have been set impossibly short deadlines to produce information that was not originally required from us when the decision was first set to be made on the afternoon of Monday April 16.

“One deadline was even set for us 19 minutes in the past and so was impossible to meet literally, even for some kind of superhero!

“We feel we will surely prove before long that the other bidders were not treated in this way.

“We have regularly objected to the current exercise and its execution to the district auditor who called for an accountable and transparent process at the last Accounts, Audit and Governance meeting of the council.

“In our view, this has been everything but.”

A statement from HDC said: “The Blue Flash Music Trust submitted an envelope to the council prior to this deadline through Mr Mayfield which is said to contain a sealed bid.

“However, the council is unable to verify this since Mr Mayfield has refused to allow the council to open it to reveal its contents and evaluate it along with the other bids that have been received and thus remains unaware of what it contains.”

HDC added that it gave Mr Mayfield opportunities to allow it to open the envelope, but he refused to permit this.

Since no bid was formally submitted it said that nothing was actually rejected.