New community hall on the cards for Midhurst

An innovative deal with developers at the former St Margaret’s Convent in Midhurst could see the town getting a new community hall.

It is the brainchild of town councillor Gordon McAra, who believes the development of the massive town-centre site could present a big opportunity for Midhurst to gain desperately-needed community facilities.

Now he wants Midhurst Town Council to contact potential developers who are known to have been examining the former school for redevelopment.

“It is the government’s intention, through the Localism Bill, to allow local communities to benefit far more from planning applications than they have done in the past,” he told town councillor.

“In its crudest form it means planning gain money should not be spent in Chichester, but in the community the planning development actually takes place.”

He said the former convent was a valuable site of some two or three acres which would see a developer having to pay a ‘six-figure sum’ in planning contribution funding.

The former school hall was, he said, an awkward-shaped building to accommodate in any development.

“From the developer’s point of view, it might help their credentials when they present their case to the community if they could offer the school hall to the town when going through planning negotiations.”

He added: “It would be excellent for the town and it could save the developer quite a lot of money.

“The planning contribution is going to be in six figures, whereas giving an existing building with no costs attached makes it much more attractive to a developer.”

Mr McAra said Midhurst badly needed a town hall. The recently-refurbished St Ann’s Hall was a small resource centre and the Midhurst Rother College Memorial Hall would be available less and less to the town when it was taken over by the South Downs National Park as part of its headquarters, possibly becoming an interpretation centre.

He said the former St Margaret’s school hall was in a perfect position and had been widely used by the community when the school was open.

“It has an entrance on to Petersfield Road – it’s in a tight corner but it would easily be separated from the rest of any development on the site and in many respects it would be ideal.

“It is basically an empty building which is modern and should be quite easy to get up and running.”

Mr McAra said he envisaged the hall would be available for a wide number of community uses from children’s parties and other social events to exhibitions and drama evenings.

He believed it would be prudent for the hall to be run initially by the town council so running costs and profitability could be assessed.

He now wants to put the case to the town council’s finance and general purposes committee to see if members would agree taking the idea forward.

St Margaret’s convent junior school closed in July 2009 after takeover talks collapsed.

Seaford College near Petworth failed to secure a deal with the Sisters of Mercy religious order which would have enabled the college to take it on as its own junior wing.

This sparked speculation the order preferred to retain the prime location as potential redevelopment land when the time was right.