Councillor explains why proposals are being made to convert Horsham’s Drill Hall into flats

A leading councillor has spoken out over why Horsham District Council wants to convert an historic town centre building into 20 flats.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 11:44 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 11:07 am

A public outcry erupted earlier this week when the council first announced it was proposing to convert the Drill Hall in Denne Road into ‘affordable housing.’

Two protest petitions have been launched along with a ‘Save The Drill Hall’ campaign.

The hall was built for the local Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment in the 1920s and was taken over by the council after the Territorial Army moved out.

Drill Hall, Denne Road, Horsham. Pic Steve Robards SR20012202 SUS-200122-150151001

It has since been hired out to a variety of organisations for a range of events.

But Councillor Jonathan Chowen, Horsham District Council cabinet member for leisure and culture, has now set out the reasons behind the council’s proposals.

In a statement, he said: “In terms of statistics:The Drill Hall’s average weekly usage is 10 hours a week; Its annual loss to the council per year is currently £45,000; The required investment to modernise the hall is some £1 million.

“Drill Hall condition: The building has been well maintained but is 93 years old and was built for army drills. It suffers design limitations such as poor lighting and acoustics that cannot be overcome by refurbishment.

“The large glass roof makes it expensive to heat in winter and prone to overheating in the summer.

“The council would need to spend roughly £1m to bring it to a modern letting standard but the building would still not be accessible.

“These design flaws make the building less attractive to potential users than alternative venues in the town.

“History:”The Drill Hall was sold to the district council in 2002 by the MOD. The Royal Sussex Regiment, who used it as a Territorial Army centre, has only two requests; that any future building should be named in recognition of its link with the regiment, and that the regimental plaque is retained.

“Should the site become available for affordable housing, the council will investigate prioritising anyone of a military background.

“Usage: The average annual use for all activities in the hall is just 10 hours per week.

“Alternative venues: There are 18 other venues in and near Horsham town and the nearby Parkside council offices offer a large flexible air-conditioned space with parking on site.

“A new enhanced facility at Highwood, also in the Denne ward, would be able to accommodate most of the current users.

“Affordable housing: The Drill Hall site could be developed to provide 20 much needed affordable flats to accommodate those working in our community on lower incomes.

“Southern Housing already provide affordable homes on parts of the original Drill Hall site and any flats here would be additional to that.

“Engagement: The proposal, which would keep the Drill Hall open for two years until Highwood is built, has been discussed at five meetings with local members and the neighbourhood council.

“At the 30 January cabinet meeting councillors will consider committing additional funds to enhance the new facility at Highwood, allowing the Drill Hall to be decommissioned.

“If better alternatives that achieve the twin objectives of saving local taxpayers £1million and providing a community benefit come forward before the Drill Hall is decommissioned, they will be considered.

“Review: The council will keep future community needs under review. Should such demand appear in the future, I would support consideration of a new purpose-built, flexible facility being included in the council’s plan for redevelopment of Hurst Road in Horsham.”

Councillor Peter Burgess, cabinet member for Horsham Town Centre, spent a long period of his career in military service. He said: “I served in the Royal Navy for over 30 years. During this time all four services have had to change. In some cases this has meant that some well-respected establishments have, and will continue, to close.

“Horsham’s Drill Hall served the armed forces well. However time has passed, it is not now well used and this 93 year old building will need £1million plus capital expenditure if it is to remain.

“So, as cabinet mrmber for Horsham Town Centre, I feel its replacement by genuine affordable housing for those who provide our essential services, including ex-military personal, makes sense.

“We can retain the link to the past by keeping the commemorative plaque and giving it an appropriate name.”