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Dudley Hippodrome is the 'missing piece' in multi-million pound university park plans, say bosses

Leaders have heralded the opening of a new £32.5 million technology centre in the Black Country – and they say Dudley Hippodrome is the next missing piece to the puzzle.

Aerial images showing regeneration areas around Dudley town centre. Showing Castle Hill and Dudley Hippodrome

The Black Country & Marches Institute of Technology (BCM IoT), run by Dudley College, officially launched on Thursday with a plaque unveiling at its home on Zoological Drive.

It is one of the first higher education institutes of its type in the country – working hand-in-hand with local employers and universities to offer apprenticeships and courses to local young people.

The building opened to students last month – with more than 2,000 learners set to be taught there by 2025.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street attended the launch, and said: "I would describe this as an absolute bullseye for the Black Country. It will bring high-level technical training within reach to young people in the area, giving them skills they need for a job for life in growing sectors."

There are plans in motion to transform the crumbling Dudley Hippodrome building on Castle Hill into a £25 million university park – to further boost the borough's high education offering.

But dozens of objections have been submitted to Dudley Council, fighting to keep the historic building as an entertainment venue.

Chief executive and principal of Dudley College, which runs the BCM IoT, Neil Thomas said: "We've got to see what happens with the Hippodrome otherwise there's two thirds of a brilliant, higher education site with the Metro going through it and then effectively an abandoned building so it just seems right to use that space.

"I know there's a lot of passion around the Hippodrome but it would be, in my opinion, the missing piece - finishing off a really impactful side to Dudley."

The launch event saw dignitaries across the region, including the minister for higher education Michelle Donelan MP in attendance.

Education bosses say the facility will be a major boost to the region’s economy.

Mr Thomas added: “Employers are crying out for more technical skills locally, we just can’t source them in the local area, and if young people leave the borough for university then often they don’t come back.

“We just don’t have enough higher level technical skills here. So what we’ve created here is essentially a venue where universities come to the students.

“So they bring their provisions here and we deliver it through apprenticeships, and it won’t even cost the individual.

“They can go all the way through their higher education without picking up any debt, staying locally, and most importantly work locally – contributing to those businesses – and we can retain and develop high-level skills in the region. It’s a real game changer.”

There are also plans in the pipeline to transform the derelict Dudley Hippodrome building into a multi-million university park, to add to the higher education offering in the borough.

But many locals are opposed to the plans to demolish the historic venue.

Mayor of West Midlands Andy Street said he had spoken with those who were campaigning against the plans. He said: “So I’ve talked to them directly, and I understand their passion hugely.

“I would want to work with them for cultural venues in Dudley and I know the council does as well but actually there’s another really exciting prize which is the concept of a university centre in the middle of the town.

“So bringing this and the university centre forward is really ambitious I think for young people in Dudley.

“Let’s think about the cultural offer, not just about the building.”

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