Theatres Trust criticises decision to give driverless vehicle group given more time for Dudley Hippodrome plans
A decision to allow a driverless vehicle company an extra nine months to finalise its plans for Dudley Hippodrome has been described as "disappointing" by the Theatres Trust.
The body said it was "unreasonable" that the company had been given more time when a community group which previously tried to save the landmark did not have the same opportunity.
The Hippodrome is set to be demolished and the site turned into a testing centre for automated vehicles, under plans favoured by Dudley Council.
However, the authority has yet to see any plans from the Dudley Driverless Vehicles Consortium (DDVC) more than 12 months after allowing it to get started. DDVC was this week granted extra time - until September - to put together its case.
The Theatres Trust suggested the authority had not been fair to campaigners, who still want to reopen the venue, by allowing the consortium more time.
A community-led group was given a five-year lease to the Hippodrome as part of a long-running saga over the future of the site before it was taken back by the council when it became convinced the group wouldn't be able to come up with the necessary funds.
Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley denied favouring one plan over another at the meeting and said the situation would be reviewed in the next few months if there are not signs of progress.
The Theatres Trust said in a statement: "This group of large commercial and professional organisations was given a year and council officer support to develop a viable business plan, which it has failed to deliver by the deadline.
"This is particularly concerning as the community group who were previously in occupation of the theatre had its five-year lease terminated after just one year due to non-delivery of the same.
"It seems unreasonable that a voluntary community group working with no support was not extended the same opportunity given to professional organisations to develop their business plan.
"While councillors speak of the need for ambition and are investigating the potential of a new entertainment venue in Dudley, they refuse to consider a pre-existing and prominent building that could serve this purpose and would have less environmental impact than building a new venue.
"With a partnership between local people, the council and other stakeholders, Dudley Hippodrome could be a wonderful cultural hub for the community. This is why the recent decision by Dudley Council is so disappointing and neglects Dudley’s history and the public support for saving this building."