Clair Hall

A civic hall purpose-built with theatre provision that was a popular community venue with an active live performance programme before the pandemic.

The exterior of Clair Hall.
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
Date of Construction
Not listed / Asset of Community Value


Clair Hall was built as part of a 1971 civic complex, which included theatre provision and community facilities. It was always intended as a performance venue and has been used by community groups.

The venue is significant due to the lack of alternative provision within the area. There is a masterplan for the surrounding area, but it does not include replacement cultural provision. Despite the council commissioning work to identify alternative venues near Clair Hall, it has been reported by community groups that this is not readily available, and no suitable alternative venues have been suggested.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Clair Hall was added to the Theatres at Risk Register in 2022.

The building closed in March 2020 because of the Covid pandemic.
In September 2020, Mid Sussex District Council cabinet voted to remove Clair Hall from the existing leisure contract and permanently close the venue without consultation. Theatres Trust objected to this decision. There is disagreement about the venue’s previous lawful use. The council categorises 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 is afforded special protection whereby, under normal circumstances, 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 full planning permission, irrespective of its formal use class. Theatres Trust also holds this view.

Theatre potential

Public consultation was undertaken throughout 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 refurbishing the building rather than redeveloping it. The full report can be viewed on the council’s Engagement Hub.

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

Current situation

Clair Hall has been in use as a vaccination centre since December 2020.

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.

In April 2022, BOP Consulting was appointed by Mid Sussex District Council to explore the feasibility and development of Clair Hall. Theatres Trust met with BOP Consulting to discuss feedback on the draft report. The final report published in October 2022, explored three possible options for the site, with the two preferred options to take forward being:

  • Refurbishment of the existing buildings by a party who can raise the operational expenditure to maintain and run the existing buildings on a leasehold basis.
  • Development of the site by a party who can use it as a cultural / community facility and other uses on a leasehold basis.

In early September 2023 the council shared the work of Montague Evans and Auguarde Consulting in a public engagement event. This revealed that the consultants had concluded that the most viable way forward was for the council to work with a cultural partner and a developer to build a new venue at no direct cost to the council. This would involve the demolition of the existing building and a scheme of mixed-use development on the site with housing adjoining the new cultural venue.

Under this proposal the council would retain the freehold ownership of the venue and enter into leasehold arrangements with various operators. The council indicated it was keen to explore the option of a community stewardship of the site through the option of a cultural trust within these arrangements.

At a cabinet meeting of the council in September 2023 support for the development proposal was agreed in principle, but before further steps are taken it was agreed there would be an opportunity for alternative community proposals to be put forward and assessed. 

Following an open call, which closed in December 2023,  the community proposals will be assessed by an independent technical panel with expertise in the cultural and voluntary sector and the built environment. The panel will report to the Clair Hall Executive Steering Group which in turn will report to the council cabinet. The council has committed to exploring every option carefully and the approach taken with community proposals aims to be as enabling and supportive as possible. The criteria and process to be used by the panel is available on the Clair Hall Engagement Hub. It is expected that the panel will report in February 2024. 

During this period Theatres Trust has provided advice to the Save Clair Hall community group who have submitted a proposal to the council. We also attended the council engagement session and provided feedback to the council on its initial redevelopment plans.

Main image, Clair Hall by Colin Kenward.