Councillors have given the thumbs up to a controversial multimillion pound plan for Burgess Hill.
They believe the £65m renovation plan could be the biggest investment in the South East.
It will bring a new cinema, hotel, shops and homes into the town centre, and was approved by Mid Sussex District Council on Tuesday night (September 8) despite more than 5,000 residents opposing to the loss of Martlets Hall.
Around 40 members of the public sat in the public gallery to hear the decision.
Councillor Norman Webster said: “This is the biggest investment in West Sussex and probably in South East England at this time and we need to consider both current and future generations.”
Councillor Pru Moore, cabinet member for leisure and sustainability, spoke of the opposition to losing the hall and said the hall was not viable nor was it used by the majority of the town’s population.
“Much has been said about what makes the heart of a town,” she said. “It’s the town centre that gives a town a heart. “It needs to go forward or it will die on its feet.”
She added: “This will be like a triple heart bypass for this town.
She said it was ‘regrettable’ the plan meant losing the hall, after which came a long period of applause from the public gallery, but she went on to explain why this was an acceptable compromise.
“What we’ve got is not working and is not sustainable,” she said. “It’s not serving our residents to the highest quality.
“As Burgess Hill evolves, more opportunities will present themselves but we can’t talk about possibilities until they’re there.”
She said there was still plenty of time for the council to find a new alternative community hall as Martlets Hall will not be knocked down until the end of 2017, according to the plan.
The council has already started finding alternative venues for some of the users of the hall but Mrs Moore accepted that the theatre club would be the hardest to accommodate.
Mrs Moore added: “I think this is the last chance we have. If we don’t take this opportunity nothing else will come forward.
“Burgess Hill is a very bold and courageous town. We have taken bold and courageous decisions in the last five years.
“Other authorities will be green with envy for what we can deliver in our town.”
The council’s advisor David Hearn, of Max Associates, told councillors that the Martlets Hall is used up to 30 per cent of the time.
He said a viable theatre will have around 65 per cent usage.
Councillor Garry Wall, leader of the council, said it was important for councillors to look at the scheme as a whole rather than just the loss of the hall.
He said he could not ignore the figures presented to him, showing the new developments would provide 500-600 jobs, while the Martlets Hall currently provides eight jobs.
“This is looking at how an asset will be best used for the future. This is not about one building.”
New River Retail’s plan includes more than 130 new homes, 160 additional parking spaces, a modern shopping offer, a multiplex cinema, a hotel and family restaurants.
The planned phasing of the scheme should see the work completed in 2020/21, assuming it gets planning permission this year.