Update: Bid to demolish the Town Hall and create 200 new homes

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Plans for a new Town Hall and 200 homes on a town centre site will be discussed at a public meeting tonight (Wednesday June 29).

A joint scheme by Crawley Borough Council and developer Westrock could see the Town Hall and Civic Hall demolished and replaced with a purpose-built building by 2020.

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Under the scheme, three housing blocks will be built on the site of the existing Town Hall and the two storey-car park west of it in a phased three-year construction programme.

A new 60,000 square foot town hall would be built on the Civic Hall site at the eastern end of The Boulevard.

The council’s deputy chief executive Peter Browning said the scheme could mean a ‘significant’ saving for the council.

He explained: “At the moment all the advice we’ve received says that it should be the cheaper option than the refurbishment.”

Cllr Andrew Skudder, cabinet member for resources, said the council would look to enter agreements to ensure the developer worked exclusively with the council for up to 12 months. A report recommending the council enter the ‘exclusivity agreement’ will go to the cabinet on tonight.

He explained Westrock, which owns the car park, made the proposals to the council at the start of the year. The council had been considering either demolishing or refurbishing its Town Hall.

He said: “What we are hoping for is that we end up with something that could be a cheaper option for us than doing up the existing building.

“We would want to move fairly quickly because Westrock aren’t going to sit on that land for ever so we want to move.”

Cllr Skudder said the ‘iconic’ Town Hall council chamber was currently used only six times for meetings per year. He said: “Nearly all the rest of the time it’s shut up because it’s not suitable for other uses.”

He added it had poor heating, ventilation, and could not be used for committee meetings because it did not have a projection board.

The new chamber would be purpose-built and have civic uses, such as Crawley Question Time, which have been held in the Civic Hall.

He said council staff would suffer less disruption in the joint scheme than the refurbishment plans the council had been considering.

Nigel Sheehan, head of partnership services, said the joint scheme allowed for a better more cohesive ‘townscape’. He said: “Bringing the two sides together then the relationship with Woodhall-Duckham House (a Westrock development site next to the proposed housing blocks) is much more coordinated with the Town Hall.”

A council spokesman said: “The council’s preferred option was to refurbish the current Town Hall and rent out unused space to the community/voluntary sector. However, the cost of Westrock’s proposal is expected to be significantly lower than the refurbishment option due to the land value of the current Town Hall site.

“If these plans went ahead the current Town Hall would remain the council’s administrative centre until the new Town Hall was ready to move into.

“Work would also continue to investigate opportunities for both commercial and/or community/voluntary sector tenants.”

The proposals would also see the creation of a ‘district heat network’ power generator which would power the flats and council building and mean lower running costs for the authority. This would help the council meet sustainability planning rules and surplus power could be sold to Crawley Police Station and Central Sussex College Crawley.

Cllr Skudder said some of the proposed homes would be two and three bedroom flats. He said the council would require 40 per cent of them - 80 homes - to be affordable. He referred to a recently refused bid for office conversions in Sutherland House under the permitted development rights, which do not require planning permission, and added: “They are substantial proper places to live - they are not tiny places.”