Hall is indispensable

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IT seems safe to assume the citizens of Worthing are quite unaware that in their town exists a match made in heaven.

I refer to the combination of the biggest Wurlitzer organ in Europe and the famed acoustics of the grade-two-listed Assembly Hall, where the organ is currently located.

The organ was installed in 1981 and, since then, it has been massively increased in size by the addition of parts from an ex-BBC Wurlitzer.

As reported in the Herald, it is regularly played by world-famous musicians and the BBC records performances for broadcasting. Wurlitzer fans from all over the world come to Worthing to listen to this wonderful instrument and, of course, support the town’s economy by using local hotels, shops and restaurants.

With such an asset, one would assume that Worthing Borough Council would fight tooth and nail to retain this unique instrument in its current location. Such assumptions are sadly wrong because not only has the council threatened the Assembly Hall with closure, it has also issued notice that the Wurlitzer should be removed by April, 2012.

This has been decided in order to save money as the council have discovered that local theatres are being subsidised to the tune of £100,000 a month.

Being a seaside town and partially dependent on visitors, we believe that there must be an investment in keeping the town attractive for those who come here for breaks or holidays.

There is little doubt that improved marketing and better quality shows would help to reduce the subsidy. At the end of the day, investment in the town’s entertainment infrastructure brings a net gain to the citizens and traders of Worthing.

The craziest aspect of the council’s economics is the cost of removing the Wurlitzer from the Assembly Hall (presumably this is to make it a more flexible property for any potential buyer).

It is such an enormous instrument that there would be inevitable damage to the stage and proscenium arch, together with a need to remove some of the building’s walls! Sussex Organ Trust insists that the cost of removal would amount to a figure somewhere between £750,000 and £1,000,000.

The trust is confident that this figure would have to be met by the council as they are effectively breaking an open-ended contract to house the Wurlitzer in the Assembly Hall. Given that the council’s plans are designed to save £1,000,000 a year, any saving would be offset by the organ removal costs and as a result it would be at least a year before there would be any “benefit” to council tax payers.

This is economic madness as the net loss will be assets which are capable of earning revenue for many, many years to come.

The Assembly Hall itself was left in perpetuity to the citizens of Worthing by Mr Denton, the mayor, in around 1934.

It can, therefore, be argued that the hall is not in the possession of the council and therefore not its to sell.

There is also the practical question of where the council would hold large public meetings if the Assembly hall was no longer available to them.

Last year, when the planning committee debated the application to build a massive development at Titnore, owing to massive public interest, it was necessary to hold the meeting in the Assembly Hall. There can be little doubt that a venue of this size will be required in the future for the democratic and process in the town.

Without the Assembly Hall, where would the council hold such events?

For the above reasons, the Worthing Society appeals to the council to reverse its policy to “get rid of” the Assembly Hall.

Bill Geddes

on behalf of The

Worthing Society

Lansdowne Road

Worthing