Dispute over Horsham Old Town Hall bids

The Old Town Hall. Archive picture.
The Old Town Hall. Archive picture.

CONTROVERSY over the future of Horsham’s Old Town Hall shows no sign of going away.

The building was closed more than two years ago while Horsham District Council attempted to lease it out as a cafe or restaurant.

More recently the hall was put up for sale or rent on the open market, and the council is now considering those bids.

The Blue Flash Music Trust, which has campaigned throughout for the building to remain as a community resource, is now saying that its bid was unfairly rejected.

A statement from trust spokesman Robert Mayfield said: “This is most unfair.

“All the evidence points to the Cabinet approaching our re-submitted bid, one that was previousy 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 re-run 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 16th April.

“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 think we were already given a disadvantage of course with the commercial bias set in the evaluation criteria by just one Cabinet Member.

“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.

“We believe that the Council’s only reasonable way forward is to re-run a democratic process fairly, with sealed bids as advised by the District Auditor in 2010.

“The special council meeting on 9th May would seem a good opportunity for all councillors to assess what has gone wrong and then get it right.”

A statement from Horsham District Council this week said: “The Council advertised that any bid in respect of proposals for the future use of the old Town Hall should be received by noon on 13 April 2012.

“The Blue Flash Music Trust (BFMT) 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.

“Mr Mayfield said that he would only permit the envelope to be opened once the case against the Council that he is taking to the High Court has been decided and may take a considerable time.

“The Council made Mr Mayfield fully aware that it is following a recognised standard bid procedure and to be fair to all parties it wishes to consider and evaluate all bids at the same time and cannot allow an extension of the deadline to anyone.

“Mr Mayfield was then given a further opportunity to allow the Council to open the envelope received from the BFMT but he still refused to permit this.

“In the circumstances, the Council has not been able to view the contents of the envelope from the BFMT and has had no choice but to discount it from the bid process.

“It has not rejected a bid from the BFMT since nothing has been submitted by the deadline that the Council has been allowed to see and thus evaluate.

“The Council is now in the process of evaluating details of all the bids received by the deadline from other parties and will be reporting on the outcome of that evaluation to a special Council meeting on 9 May 2012.”