Mid Sussex councillors have upset thousands of residents when they gave the thumbs up to a controversial multimillion pound improvement plan for Burgess Hill.
The £65m renovation, considered by one councillor to be, possibly, the biggest investment in the South East, will mean the demolition of Martlets Hall - a community asset which more than 5,000 residents do not believe can be replaced with other facilities around the town.
Petitioners wanted the district council to promise a like-for-like, or better, hall would be put in place before the Martlets Hall’s removal but their hopes were shattered as councillors said they had to be ‘bold and courageous’ and grab this opportunity to ‘bring Burgess Hill into the 21st century’ at a ‘critical’ time.
In the crucial meeting last week, councillor Pru Moore, portfolio holder for leisure and sustainability, said the council had to consider what is best for future generations.
Councillor Norman Webster added: “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.”
Campaigners who attended the meeting were irked by the implication that they were against development.
Hilary Sharp-Smith said: “We are not against progress . We would like everything that has been proposed. We would be very happy to have a better facility that would attract more public.
“Of course I’ll use the cinema if they build one too! It won’t just be for younger generations.
“But I don’t understand why these things all need to be in the town centre.
“Half the industrial estate is empty. That’s the sort of place you could put a cinema.”
Many users of the hall have been left uncertain of their futures.
Resident Judy Redd, who also attended the meeting, hosts charity coffee mornings in the foyer of the hall throughout the year.
“I’ve been hiring the foyer since 1990.
“Where will we go to do that? They provide the tea ern, kitchen area, an area for coffee tables and I’ve nothing but praise for the hall and the people that work there.”
NewRiver Retail hopes to bring a new cinema, hotel, shops and homes into the town centre. Development will be completed by 2020/21, assuming a start in 2016/17.
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