News

Horsham Drill Hall saved – for now

Martin Read – Reporter

At the well attended Horsham District Council Meeting on January 30th – when the room was too full to accommodate late comers – it was confirmed that an independent report would be commissioned to ascertain the future sustainability of Horsham’s Drill Hall and that in the absence of a viable plan emerging within two years then the building would be decommissioned and replaced with affordable flats. As separate issues, the provision of the new Highwood Community facility was approved and it was announced that there would be public consultation regarding the possible provision of major housing schemes at various substantial sites around the district. The consultations will run for six weeks from February 17th to March 30th at venues in and around the district, including Horsham’s Swan Walk.

Regarding the Drill Hall, Jonathan Chowen, Horsham District Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture explained: “The building is 93 years old and, while it has been well-maintained, it is old fashioned and not well configured. Usage is low, there is a lack of day time parking and it is just a big hall, rather than a community centre.” But, he agreed that the Drill Hall is in an historic part of Horsham and has a fondly-respected heritage, adding: “It is a great venue for big events, with extensive space, but it is difficult to use and is not easy to market, competing against other locations in the town. Also, while residents have considerable attachment to the building, it needs up-dating and renovation, including to conform with environmental aspects, at a probable outlay of over £1 million and costs around £45,000 to run annually.”

Other speakers, including the Chairs of neighbouring councils, made the following points – the blackest possible picture has been painted about the Drill Hall – it is the only large open floor space in the town centre and removing it would leave a large vacuum. It brings people into the town, sometimes staying overnight for big events. It was also said that replacing the Drill Hall with only 20 flats would not be a good use of such a large site. Others felt that affordable flats in the town centre would be welcomed, while a lone opponent of retention of the Hall felt that if it was so valuable why is it not more widely used? And, considering the refurbishment costs it is not appropriate to keep it.

However, well over 5,000 people have signed the Save the Drill Hall petition.

At the meeting, concerns were expressed over the way in which the Drill Hall demolition proposal was handled, leading to fears whether other prized assets are on an HDC hit list, and emphasising that the Council is guardian of community properties, and the repair of trust is now necessary. In an impassioned letter, Horsham resident Tammara Payen encapsulated some of the strongly held local opinions, recalling many pleasant activities at the venue saying: “The Drill Hall is the heart of Horsham. I moved here because I wanted to live in a beautiful, vibrant town rich in history, to bring up my children in a strong local community. If these {community} things start to dissolve, the town will not be able to sustain what makes it so special and attractive.”

Other initiatives to preserve the Drill Hall are under active consideration – Councillor Christian Mitchell has intimated that he knows of someone who might be prepared to take over ongoing management of the facility, while another emerging group committed to its retention has told the District Post: “We plan to save the Drill Hall. Various plans to do this are being discussed. First off we’d like to increase the usage.”                                                         The Council meeting can be heard via the following link –
https://horsham.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=132&MId=1668

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