Haywards Heath council chamber to undergo major renovation

A 19th century council building will be dragged into the 21st century with a £564,000 renovation to make more of it accessible to wheelchairs.

Thursday, 30th January 2020, 5:09 pm
The view of the council chamber from the public gallery

Oaklands House, in Haywards Heath, home to Mid Sussex District Council, was built in 1865 and both the council chamber and the public gallery can only be reached via stairs.

At a meeting of the full council, deputy leader Judy Llewellyn-Burke said the work had to be done to make sure Mid Sussex was meeting the requirements of the Equality Act.

She added: “It is currently impossible for a wheelchair to access the public gallery. Regardless of any legislation, it is quite bluntly wrong that a person in a wheelchair cannot view the chamber from the public gallery.

“By installing a lift, this sorry state of affairs will be rectified.”

Some £360,000 will be spent on the lift and associated works, while the rest will go on an extensive list of jobs, which includes: installing an audio-visual system to help people with sight and hearing impairments, the replacement of obsolete heating and air conditioning, and the removal of the asbestos ceiling in the council chamber.

Other work will include redecorating, removing the wood panelling from the council chamber, and replacing the furniture – with the old tables and chairs being given to local groups.

The issue was brought to a meeting of the full council because the costs were £203,000 higher than the budget allowed, meaning the extra money had to be taken from the general reserve.

Mrs Llewellyn-Burke told members that the council had looked into extending the chamber in 2017 but kicked the idea into touch when told it would cost £1.2m.

Later tendering saw another offer of £750,000 but that was still too high.

Phillip Coote (Con, Crawley Down & Turners Hill) said: “I’ve sat in this chamber now for over 20 years and have hard many times how we were going to rebuild it.

“On one occasion we were going to decamp to somewhere new and flog the site off for development. None of those came to conclusion.

“I congratulate the cabinet for making this decision and may we get on with it – like tomorrow morning?”

While the use of reserves was approved by all members, Mr Coote will have to wait until April for the work to begin.