MID Sussex District Council’s decision to shut Clair Hall has been described as an ‘opportunity’ by some and a ‘major blow’ by others.

Members of the cabinet voted unanimously on Monday (September 14) to permanently close the hall, in Haywards Heath – but officers were asked to come up with plans for a replacement in the future.

It was also agreed to use part of the site as a public car park.

Deputy leader Judy Llewellyn-Burke said: “This pandemic has given us the opportunity to grasp the nettle and make something good out of what really is quite a crummy building.”

Like all public venues, the 50-year-old hall was closed in March to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

A report to the cabinet said that, even before the pandemic, use of the hall had been dropping and, in August, the council agreed to remove it from the leisure management contract with Places Leisure.

Members were told it would cost around £1m to maintain and repair the hall over the next 20 years, while ‘significant work’ would need to be carried out to ensure it met the energy efficiency standards due to come into play in 2023.

Andrew MacNaughton (Con, Ardingly & Balcombe) said: “It’s a shame to see a building go but we have to be pragmatic.”

Councillors have been bombarded with emails from people keen to see the hall remain open – some of which, they acknowledged, made for ‘uncomfortable reading’.

There have been a number of concerns about the future of the Redwood Centre, which is attached to the hall.

Members were assured that the fate of Clair Hall would not affect the centre, which has been used by the Scouts and a children’s nursery since Age UK moved out in 2018.

Liberal Democrat councillors have been highly critical of the fact the decision to close was made by the cabinet and not put to the full council.

Robert Eggleston (Lib Dem, Burgess Hill – Meeds) said: “The cabinet have shown a total disregard for the people of Haywards Heath.

“At the district council elections only last year, permanently closing Clair Hall was never mentioned by the Conservatives, yet Conservative councillors feel that they have the right to steamroller the closure of Haywards Heath’s largest community facility through without public consultation.” 

The Liberal Democrats pledged to fight to keep the hall open until a full legal commitment had been made to build a ‘modern, state of the art replacement’.