Analysis and Conclusions on Proposed Highwood Community Centre
Report on the Highwood Community Centre to follow.
The Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee stated that major schemes should be brought to the attention of Overview and Scrutiny and that he had repeatedly asked to see the Cabinet report for the Highwood development and the report was now before the final report went to Cabinet but this request was not met. Overview and Scrutiny Committee had very little time to scrutinise the Highwood report before the decisions would be made at Cabinet on 30th January 2020. Local Members also thought there should have been discussion with them and with the Neighbourhood Council regarding the options for the Drill Hall.
The Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture had been invited to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting. He explained that consultation on the proposals for the Highwood Community Centre had begun on 23rd November 2019 but that since that time he had had an operation and there had been Christmas.
The Head of Property and Facilities gave a presentation about the proposed Highwood Community Centre and Drill Hall redevelopment. Key points were as followed:
· The development would have a total population of approximately 2600 so a community centre was needed solely for Highwood.
· The Town Centre had other assets including The Needles Centre, The Drill Hall, the Scout Hut, the ambulance station, the Park Barn, the Capitol Studio. The Cabinet Member also mentioned the Millennium Hall in Roffey and the Methodist Hall on London Road. Local Members disputed the availability of other venues at the times required.
· The Drill Hall had a capacity of roughly 1000m2 with a hall of 375m2. It was mainly used for private hire.
· The Drill Hall’s regular users were dance groups and events about once a month. There were also larger ad hoc events. Regular large events included Sussex Artists for 15 days and a Beer Festival for 6 days.
· The current users of the Drill Hall who might potentially relocate to Highwood were HAODS amateur dramatics and 12th Horsham Scouts
· The Drill Hall received a financial subsidy of approximately £45 thousand per annum.
· The Drill Hall was approximately 90 years old and not purpose built. It had poor thermal performance and the cavernous main area was inflexible, however the sprung floor appealed to dance groups.
· The Highwood site would have daytime parking on site which the Drill Hall did not have.
· The main options for the future of the Drill Hall were to redevelop it to create approximately 20 affordable homes or to refurbish it which would mean decanting the existing users. The building would be closed for 9 months and there would be a capital cost of £1 million. The subsidy would increase to £90 thousand and there was no guarantee that existing users would return.
· The total cost to the Council of the Highwood development would be £38 thousand. There would be an additional cost of £110 thousand if the Highwood Community Centre were to be built and the Drill Hall retained.
· If the Drill Hall were redeveloped it could create an additional £137 thousand per annum for the Council. This money was needed for development of an enhanced community facility at Highwood
· The proposal which had been put forward would involve the closure of the Drill Hall after the construction of the Highwood Community Centre. This would give existing users two years to find an alternative.
The Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture said that the Drill Hall was only used for 9.1% of its usable hours. He cited experience of using a purpose built community centre which he thought was better. He felt that building a community centre at Highwood was needed to prevent potential social problems in the future and in order to be able to provide a large nursery facility on the site which would generate revenue.
A current drawback of the Drill Hall was that all the rooms led off the main hall. The Cabinet Member felt the fact that the Drill Hall could be booked out for one off events showed how little it was used by regular users. He felt affordable housing was really needed in the town. The money from affordable housing could be used to reinvest in the Capitol and Horsham House.
Some Members stated they agreed with the need for a Community Centre at Highwood but Denne Ward where the Drill Hall was located included the town centre so the Drill Hall was an asset for the whole town not a neighbourhood community centre.
A Member suggested the Highwood Community Centre would be easier to access. Another cited the Council’s statutory responsibility to ensure citizens’ funds were well used. A further Member suggested there had been no cost benefit analysis of the option to repair the Drill Hall and then charge higher rates.
Several Members thought decisions on the future of the Drill Hall did not need to be linked to decisions on Highwood.
It was noted that Berkeley Homes had a specific agreement to provide community facilities as part of the development at Highwood.
Two Councillors not on the Committee were permitted by the Chairman of the Committee to put their views to the group. One suggested that it was being presented as a fait accompli that social housing would be developed on the Drill Hall site and better consultation was needed. The other suggested that there had been little information and other options had not been looked at. She further suggested that there were access problems to the Highwood development and that better use could be made of the ancillary buildings at the Drill Hall.
The Chairman of the Committee felt that the argument that revenue was needed from affordable homes to pay for the Highwood Community Centre was incorrect because if £1.2 million had been received from Berkeley Homes then just £700,000 was needed. He also pointed out that Highwood was 3 miles from the centre of Horsham.
The following motions were proposed:
a) the net financing of the Highwood development needed to be reviewed as £1.2 million had already been provided by Berkeley Homes.
The motion was defeated
b) the future of community facilities in the town needed to be considered separately from the development of a community facility at Highwood
The motion was defeated.