‘Stand up and save Horsham’s Drill Hall’

‘Stand up and be counted to save our historic Drill Hall’ - that’s the call being made to all Horsham residents today by a leading district and county councillor and former chairman of HDC Christian Mitchell.

Friday, 17th January 2020, 12:12 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 9:57 am
Horsham's Drill Hall

On Thursday (January 30) councillors will be asked to approve a business case for the construction of a new purpose-built community centre at Highwood Village in the new development there - and the demolition of the historic Drill Hall to make way for more homes on the site.

Cllr Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West) who was HDC chairman from 2016 to 2017 today said the landmark building must be saved from demolition.

“As Chairman of Horsham District Council one of duties I had the greatest pleasure in attending was a lunch in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Queen’s Regiment at the Horsham Branch held in the Drill Hall in 2017 where I thanked all those who had served our country in the Queen’s Regiment.”

He said the Regiment had not been consulted on the proposal.

“The Drill Hall today stands a proud 93 years of age – just one year younger than her Majesty the Queen! It has been Horsham’s Community Hall since 1927 and is now in the care of HDC. But not for much longer.

“A proposal contained in a report has come forward to HDC’s Cabinet to flatten it and replace it with 20 affordable flats. The Cabinet will vote on this on January 23 at their meeting at 5:30pm at Parkside, Chart Way, Horsham. And all can attend.

“It is quite inappropriate and insensitive to suggest – as the report to the Cabinet argues - that providing affordable housing on the Drill Hall site should be welcomed as an alternative to this community space. This is an unattractive and frankly distasteful way to frame the argument. As a council, we should be building and providing for all the different needs for our town and district and not just providing housing. We can all agree that affordable housing is important, but so too are the facilities that help a community to come together and which build social networks. That is what builds society.”

He said the first he learnt of this ‘appalling proposal’ was on Wednesday, January 15 at a briefing for councillors. “I was angry to hear of plans that have not been properly thought through and cannot be said to have been consulted upon properly. This proposal has no regard for our rich history in Horsham town and district and the need for preserving and enhancing this historic and valuable community asset.

“At the briefing, councillors were told that the Drill Hall needs “£1m+” spent on it (why is it always these large round figure – just like when it was proposed to demolish Broadridge Heath Leisure Centre!) The £1m is needed – we are told – as much of that would have to be to increase the building’s “thermal performance”! What a risible argument. How desperate can one get to use to use the climate emergency as a reason do flatten our community asset.

“The report to Cabinet also seeks to argue that the Drill Hall is not used. But that is just not true!

“The Cabinet must reject this proposal and save our Drill Hall for others to continue to use it as a community facility just as it has been for the last 90 years.”

The council has a commitment under the Land West of Horsham Masterplan 2008, to build a new community centre in Denne ward at Highwood Village on land to be transferred by Berkeley Homes, the developers of this site, but is set to agree plans for a larger and more flexible facility than originally envisaged.

This follows a review to establish how existing council owned community facilities in Denne ward are currently being used, in particular the Drill Hall. According to a council report, analysis shows that most current users of the Drill Hall could be accommodated at the proposed Highwood site in an enhanced purpose-built facility.

The review also claimed that the Drill Hall is currently under-used by local residents. An HDC press statement said: “The building is old, poorly designed for modern needs, with high running costs, and its energy efficiency is very poor. It would require a major a reconstruction programme at a cost in excess of £1m to continue in use.

“It is primarily being used by commercial dance companies who could move to Highwood and other casual users, including the council itself, could either also move there or make similar use of other buildings for events, in particular the ground floor at the council’s Parkside offices.

“The council looked at alternative uses for the Drill Hall and in line with the 2019-2023 Corporate Plan objectives, it believes the site can be converted to build more much needed affordable homes in the town centre.”