Clair Hall

A civic hall purpose built for theatre use that was a popular community performance space before the pandemic.

The exterior of Clair Hall.
Address
Perrymount Rd, Haywards Heath RH16 3DN
Risk Rating
4 (Community Rating: 2, Star Value: 1, Risk Factor: 1)
Local Group
Save Clair Hall / Haywards Heath Community CIC
Architect
Unknown
Date of Construction
1971
Listing
Not listed / Asset of Community Value
Capacity
360

Significance

A purpose built theatre and cinema, Clair Hall was built as part of a 1971 civic complex. It was always intended as a performance venue and has been used by community groups. Until 2020 it was operated by Places Leisure as part of a leisure contract covering three leisure centres in the area.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Clair Hall is new to the Theatres at Risk Register in 2022.

The theatre closed in March 2020 as a result of the Covid pandemic.

In September 2020 Mid Sussex District Council cabinet voted to sever Clair Hall from the existing leisure contract and close the theatre permanently without consultation. Theatres Trust objected to this decision as the theatre was incorrectly classified in the officer’s report and the report failed to take account of the planning protections which safeguarded theatres during coronavirus closures.

There is a masterplan for the surrounding area but it does not include replacement cultural provision and community groups have been encouraged to use the local college instead.

Following a legal challenge from a local campaign group the council agreed to undertake a public consultation and reconsider the permanent closure of the theatre. The consultation process completed in September 2021 and the council is now undertaking an options appraisal for the site. While the results of this later report have yet to be published it is feared that there is little appetite within the council to retain and refurbish the theatre and that the site will instead be redeveloped.

Theatre potential

Public consultation was undertaken through 2021 that demonstrated strong public support for the return of the building to cultural use. Those who responded highlighted a current lack of provision for the arts in the area and therefore the need to retain the existing provision at the Clair Hall site. The consultation also expressed support for the building to be refurbished rather than redeveloped.

While operational improvements would be required to create a viable business model for the building, Clair Hall was a functioning performance venue up until the forced closure.

Current situation

Clair Hall closed as a theatre in March 2020 and has been in use as a vaccination centre since December of that year.

There is active support to retain Clair Hall for live entertainment, theatre and community use. Local campaign group Save Clair Hall is working alongside existing community organisation Haywards Heath Community CIC to save the theatre. Their actions have resulted in the council’s decision to permanently close the theatre being judicial reviewed. The council subsequently agreed to an order that required it to go through a proper consultation process prior to making any decision on closing the venue.

Local support for Clair Hall is reflected in the results of this 2021 consultation, which indicated a strong preference for the building to be refurbished and retained for cultural and community use.

The consultation results were taken to a council Cabinet meeting on 20 December 2021, where approval was given for up to £100k spend on further options analysis work to determine the future of the site. A feasibility study will explore options for investment in and refurbishment of the existing building as well as redeveloping the site. It will also include further demand and supply analysis, look to identify any gaps in the community facilities offer in the area, and soft test the market for any potential redevelopment ideas that could help deliver the community facilities on the site. An interim report of the findings of the feasibility study will be presented at the Cabinet meeting on 14 February.

The Cabinet has extended the licence to the NHS to continue to use Clair Hall as a vaccination centre. The council has been allowed to use Clair Hall for this purpose under current temporary permitted development rights, which allow local authorities to use buildings to deal with national emergencies such as the pandemic without the need to apply for planning permission for change of use. However the rights are temporary until 31 December 2022, and thereafter Clair Hall should be able to return to its previous lawful use.

There is however some disagreement about the venue’s previous lawful use. The council appears to categorise the venue as a community hall (planning use class F2b), rather than Sui Generis as most buildings in theatre use are. Sui Generis means the building is not in any use class and that it is afforded special protection whereby, under normal circumstance, any change of use requires planning permission. The campaign groups working to save Clair Hall have sought legal advice on this and have been advised that the venue should be categorised as Sui Generis and that it should be able to return to this previous lawful use. As a performance venue it also benefits from exemption from demolition without need for full planning permission irrespective of its formal use class. Theatres Trust also concurs with this view.

Theatres Trust will continue to advocate for the value of this theatre and offer support to the local authority as it investigates viable operating models for the building.

Update March 2022

Mid Sussex District Council has appointed BOP Consulting after a competitive tendering process to explore and identify proposals for the future of the Clair Hall site. The invitation to tender document that BOP Consulting submitted its bid against is available to see on the Clair Hall Engagement hub site.

Main image, Clair Hall by Colin Kenward.