A ROW has broken out over funding for a new entertainment venue.

The Martlets Hall arts centre in Burgess Hill is making way for a retail park and residential development in a £40 million overhaul of the town centre.

But residents are set to put their hands in their pockets after the town council asked their approval for a 17.6 per cent hike in its element of council tax to fund a 300-seater theatre and exhibition space valued at £6.9 million.

A £13 increase over a two-year period will leave taxpayers one pound a month worse off than for the next 50 years.

That is how long a £5 million loan from the Public Works Loan Board is expected to last after council plans to get developers to pay substantial contributions towards future building projects faltered.

A minimum of £145,000 has been raised through the Community Infrastructure Levy.

Robert Eggleston, chair of Burgess Hill Liberal Democrats, said councillors had promised the new arts hall, which is scheduled to open in 2024, would be paid for by the private sector.

Property investor NewRiver REIT is replacing the area around the hall with 142 homes, ten-screen Cineworld, 63-bed hotel Travelodge and a modern library after snapping up the Martlets shopping centre in 2010.

The town council denies the company ever made a financial commitment to the new venue and says it is trying to give residents the venue they want.

But Mr Eggleston, who works in arts promotion, said: “New River is effectively getting away without stumping up.

“This is another of those occasions where the public pays and the private sector gains.

“Live performing arts is part of the lifeblood of any community. We want the town to be a real beacon in Mid Sussex and beyond.”

He said Mid Sussex District Council had failed to provide a district financing plan in time.

“They are all over the shop on this,” he said.

“The district council were so desperate to get the town centre plan through that they cooked up whatever information they could to find to downgrade the idea that Burgess Hill needs an arts venue.

“They have made it abundantly clear they want nothing to do with it.”

Cllr Jonathan Ash-Edwards, Mid Sussex Cabinet Member for Resources and Economic Growth, said a survey revealed the main hall was only used 43% of the time and the other rooms were only occupied between 8-28% of the time.

He said: “This represents a heavy public subsidy for an underused facility standing empty over half of the time.”

Justin Thomas, Residential Director at NewRiver, said:

“We are delighted to be bringing forward this exciting town centre regeneration for Burgess Hill. We are making excellent progress and we will keep all occupiers and the local community informed regarding the programme of works.

"We understand that Burgess Hill Town Council is proposing a new community and performance venue in Burgess Hill. This is unrelated to our redevelopment of the town centre.

"The plans being brought forward by NewRiver provide excellent new mixed-use community facilities, including a modern purpose-built library. We are also bringing a vibrant day to evening economy, with the introduction of a cinema and hotel as well as a range of fantastic family-friendly restaurants, new retailers and enhanced public spaces.

"We worked closely with Burgess Hill Town Council and Mid Sussex District Council throughout the pre-submission process to consider all elements of community provision in the town.”