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Dudley Hippodrome future: Shock over council move to end theatre dream

By Richard Guttridge | Dudley | News | Published:

Campaigners left devastated as council appears to quash long-standing bid to revive landmark venue which played host to Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe & Wise and Cliff Richard

What will the future be for Dudley Hippodrome?

The curtain is set to fall on a campaign group’s dream to revive Dudley Hippodrome as a theatre.

Dudley Council said the group had failed to demonstrate they could raise enough money to make the rescue of the landmark viable.

Officers said the Black Country Hippodrome group, set up to take over the historic building, had failed to meet its targets since being handed the keys just over 12 months ago and that the lease agreement would be torn up, subject to final agreement from councillors.

Members will be asked to formally end the agreement at a crunch meeting next week in a move that would kill off the proposed takeover of the Hippodrome and once again throw the future of the landmark on Castle Hill into uncertainty.

Campaigners were handed a five-year lease by the council but complained it was not long enough to attract necessary funding.

How the Hippodrome looked in October 1970

But council bosses say time is up for the Black Country Hippodrome group after losing confidence in their ability to deliver on their promises.

A report on the progress of the Hippodrome scheme said the group have ‘failed to submit a funding strategy that provides confidence that funding has been or is likely to be secured for the project’.

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The council also said it believed ‘legitimate funders would accept’ a five-year lease on the understanding it would be extended if enough money was raised.

An unsuccessful bid for funding to the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership appears to be the final nail in the coffin for the restoration plans.

Steve Daniels, from Black Country Hippodrome, said he was ‘disappointed’ by the recommendation following more than a year of work to try and get the project moving and said it would be ‘a sad day for local democracy’ if the move was confirmed next week.

Looking down at what would have been the stage, now covered in bingo tables, in 2012

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He said: “We have all worked tirelessly on this project to make this happen, we have insured the building at considerable cost, we have had a security team visit the site twice daily, we have applied for funding from Heritage Lottery Fund.

"We have not stopped working on the project.”

If the decision is confirmed, it could open the door for Dudley College which has said it would be interested knocking down the Hippodrome and regenerating the site to create a new site for students.

What will the future hold for Dudley Hippodrome?

If the romantic vision of bringing Dudley Hippodrome back to its former glory appeared too good to be true, town bosses have now decided it was.

The decision has drawn a furious response from members who have been working on plans for more than a year and ploughed in an estimated £30,000.

Is the dream over? How the restored Dudley Hippodrome would have looked

A seven-page report sets out the reasons bosses at the authority believe the plan will never come to fruition – mainly surrounding a lack of confidence in their ability to secure funding – and they have moved now to put a stop to the restoration.

Council leader Patrick Harley stressed a final decision will be made next week but the report could not be clearer about the authority’s position on the Hippodrome.

It comes just two months after Dudley College confirmed it would be interested in knocking down the landmark and regenerating the site.

Councillors have been advised to approve a recommendation to allow the authority to ‘commence the procedure leading to forfeiture of the lease’.

The view inside the Hippodrome

teve Daniels, from the Black Country Hippodrome group, which was formed to take over the former theatre, said he had been left ‘stunned’ and was unhappy at not being granted a meeting with council bosses before decision day next week.

He said: “It isn’t the councillors who were put in by the people who run it, it’s the officers. It’s a sad day for local government in Dudley.

“Everything they have asked for in the last 12 months we have completed.”

Comedian Ken Dodd (third right) celebrates the Dudley Hippodrome's birthday in 1957

Mr Daniels said he suspected the council favoured a deal with the college, something leaders have previously denied.

He said: “When we first entered into the agreement with the council there was nothing else. They were going to knock it down and put benches in there. Now the college is sniffing around.

“They are taking away the chance of having something in Dudley for everybody. We have worked hard on this.”

What the inside of the Hippodrome looked like in 2012

Under the grand scheme, the iconic building would have re-opened as a theatre for the first time in half a century and also serve as a venue for community groups and functions.

But designs and artist’s impressions for how the refurbished building would have looked appear set to be consigned to history.

It is just the latest turn in a seemingly never-ending journey over the future of the Hippodrome.

The then-Dudley Council leader, Councillor Pete Lowe, handing over the keys to the Dudley Hippodrome to campaigner Dr Paul Collins in December 2016

A couple of years ago, it looked all set to be bulldozed when the then Labour-run council published plans for an open green space to replace the building, only for that to be put on the back-burner when the approach came from Black Country Hippodrome.

The group was handed a five-year lease and allowed to begin minor works inside.

Problems began to arise when members said they would not be able to raise the £5 million needed with such a short lease.

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Chief Reporter - @RichG_star

Chief Reporter for the Express & Star, based in Wolverhampton.

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