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martlets hall burgess hillMid Sussex District Council Decide The Public Do Not Need To Know About The Future Of The Martlets Hall
10th December 2014
by Peter Chapman

Mid Sussex District Council finally replied to our Freedom of Information request this morning regarding the future of the Martlets Hall. Sadly their reply is a farce.

However, before we continue, it's only fair to make a correction from yesterday. It turns out that Mid Sussex District Council weren't overdue with the response to out FOI request. Apparently an email from their autoresponder does not mean that the FOI request has been received and thus you just have to guess when a human may have chosen to open your email..

Maybe if a council staff member were to reply to say they've opened it, then maybe a suggestion of foul play could be avoided in the future.

Let it still be noted however, that it took MSDC the full twenty days to send us the following:

MSDC's Reply To Our FOI Request:
Please find enclosed documents relating to your request.
You can download all the documents via this link: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/martlets_hall_burgess_hill#incoming-594415

Please note, the Council has a right to apply an exemption if it believes one exists. In this particular case we believe the exemption Section 43 - Commercial Interests applies to meeting notes. This exemption is subject to the public interest test.

In this particular case, it is considered that the public interest in releasing the information does not outweigh the public interest in withholding the information.

The matter is still being discussed and no decision has been taken. The matter therefore remains commercially sensitive and the notes of the meetings will therefore not be released at this stage.

Commercial Sensitivity Clause Is A Poor Excuse
The Martlets Hall is a public building located on land which the district council own the freehold. There is nothing commerically sensitive in asking what the council are going to do with the Martlets Hall.

As for 'the matter is still being discussed' We know that in the summer, District Councillor Gary Marsh told Burgess Hill Town Council that MSDC offered up the Martlets Hall to NewRiver Retail for development.

At the public exhibition of NewRiver Retail's plans for the Martlets, a representative told us that they have NOT been instructed to provide a replacement entertainments facility anywhere in the town.

It's rather simple, either Mid Sussex District Council have plans to replace the Martlets Hall or they do not. The commercial sensitivity clause is not valid, especialy as MSDC have cleared NewRiver Retail of any requirement to provide a replacement. The commercial element has been removed.

They took 20 days to supply some poor quality diagrams and state they can't tell us anything else as they don't consider the 'public's need to know' as being strong enough.

Another Call For Action
Well maybe it's about time we show them how much we want to know in a way that they'll understand, one that doesn't involve sending them emails, letters and submitting freedom of information requests. If you want to take action, read our open letter to Burgess Hill Residents and then contact us.

Final Thought
I'll leave you with this thought. If the Martlets Hall was going to form part of the new shopping precinct or be relocated, don't you think the likes of Andrew Barrett-Miles, Ian Simpson, Pru Moore and Anne Jones would be making a statement saying there's nothing to worry about especially as we're just 5 months away from the elections? Their silence speaks volumes.

Spread the word... The district council are refusing to reveal the fate of our public entertainments venue as they know it would cause outrage.

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