Hopes raised that old Town Hall could be available for community use again

THE BLUE Flash Music Trust remains keen to take over the running of Horsham’s old Town Hall, which will have been closed for two years this January.

And recent comments from Horsham district council’s leader seem to shine a ray of light on the prospect of a community group, rather than a restaurant, taking on the tenure of the historic building in Market Square.

In the council chamber last Wednesday, Robert Nye responded to a question submitted by Robert Mayfield of the Blue Flash Music Trust about the latest marketing exercise to turn the iconic premises into a restaurant, after Bill’s Cafe and Produce Store pulled out of negotiations one year ago.

“The head of scrutiny committee informed us there was another marketing exercise held for the old Town Hall completing in July,” Mr Mayfield said.

“I understand this exercise cost £7,500. What were the specific details and the outcome of this exercise please?”

In a written answer, Mr Nye said commercial property agent Davis Coffer Lyons had been commissioned to undertake another marketing exercise at a cost of £3,000.

This included producing a new colour brochure and targeting specific operators considered to be interested in leasing the property and who would also ‘meet the council’s brief for a quality operator’.

No firm offers were received by the bid date of July 1, but the property remains on the market and listed on the agent’s website.

“The council continues to receive expressions of interest in the building, the most recent viewing being held on October 14,” confirmed Mr Nye.

“I have asked the cabinet member for efficiency and resources to review the matter and to consider options for the disposal of the building. A further update will be provided to members in due course.”

Mr Mayfield responded by saying he looked forward ‘to sitting down with the council and discussing our plans for the old Town Hall in the interests of HDC’s tourism plans based on arts and heritage and for the benefit of local businesses’.

He added: “There is certainly a unique wealth of willing, artistic talent in the local area on which we can all draw.

“In my experience, the Trust has an unblemished track record of successful arts projects in partnership with the council on events such as the Horsham Community Festival in 2006, the excellent Vaughan Williams commemoration concert in 2008 and the highly acclaimed Horsham Music Weeks of 2008 and 2009.”

Business consultant for the Blue Flash Music Trust Martin Jeremiah, a former partner in a catering business said: “In my opinion, the Trust’s proposal fully meets and enhances the council’s noble ambitions for the East Street quarter.

“As a qualified management consultant, the Trust’s business plan appears to me to be superior to some of the restaurant ‘expressions of interest’ in the past.”

Mr Jeremiah substantiated his claim with reference to the Trust’s commitment to local as well as Fairtrade produce ‘wherever possible’, and the fact its proposals would have ‘negligible impact’ on the historic building.

“The only difference between ourselves and other catering operations will be that bookings made by the Horsham community, those made more than three months in advance, will trump the flexible cafe/bar operation for the duration of that event.”