Calls to save 'iconic' Dudley Hippodrome from being flattened for university campus

The youngest son of the 4th Earl of Dudley has called for the iconic Dudley Hippodrome to be renovated instead of being torn down.

Dudley Hippodrome(older picture, before roadworks)
Dudley Hippodrome(older picture, before roadworks)

Leander Ward – son of William Humble David Ward who held the title – made the call in an objection against the controversial plans.

It would see the Art Deco theatre, along with the neighbouring former ice rink, torn down to make way for a new university campus.

The site would specialise in nursing and healthcare courses should the scheme be approved at a Dudley Council meeting on Wednesday.

But Mr Ward has objected to the proposals and said the Hippodrome should remain as it is an "iconic part" of the town's rich history.

In the objection, submitted to Dudley Council, he said: "My first cousin, Tracy, Duchess of Beaufort, who in the 3rd Earl of Dudley shares the same grandfather as me, has drawn my attention to plans to demolish the Dudley Hippodrome and replace it with an education facility, the design of which is incongruous to the conservation site of the castle.

"The theatre building is an iconic part of Dudley’s rich history and heritage. It is of huge significance historically due to the number and quality of world class performers who have played there.

"My direct ancestors gifted this land to the people of Dudley, and I am hugely proud of my family’s heritage. As a film director myself with a particular interest in architecture and the arts, I would support a newly renovated Hippodrome that can be enjoyed by the community of Dudley."

In his objection, Mr Ward said the venue was of "huge significance" and is the one and only theatre designed by renowned local architect Archibald Hurley Robinson, famous for his cinema designs – and was constructed by local workmen from a local construction company.

He said Dudley Hippodrome was the last remaining lyric theatre and there are "many reasons" to refuse the planning permission for the proposal – and argued the reopened theatre venue would bring "vital jobs back into the local community".

Mr Ward said in his objection the idea of Dudley becoming a university town "is an attractive one" but argued there must be other sites upon which the new university building could be constructed and allow the town to have "the best of both worlds – a theatre and university".

Dudley Hippodrome in the 1970s

He added: "As we look beyond the Covid 19 pandemic, we are all hopeful of a roaring 20s which will allow us to 'build back better', a slogan that, although somewhat overused by the incumbent Prime Minister, nevertheless has merit in its intent.

"We have lost a huge sense of community during a period when the very act of gathering carries a significant health risk. Furthermore, the performing arts sector has been decimated by the restrictions placed on our lifestyles and needs our support.

"Notwithstanding its plans to create a new university campus following its £25m bid to the Towns Fund, Dudley Council also has an exciting opportunity to respond to the demands of a growing campaign of its residents to breathe new life into a building that has given so much entertainment to its community.

"Clearly what they need now is a renewed sense of hope, joy and connection – to the arts, to its performers and above all to each other. A renovated, not demolished, Hippodrome offers the chance to do exactly that."

Planning officer Richard Stevenson has recommended the proposals should be given the go-ahead at a meeting of the development control committee on Wednesday.

An artist's impression of how the new university park could look

But Mr Stevenson added that any decision by the committee would still be subject to approval from Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing Michael Gove, who would have the power to “call in” the scheme for review.

Mr Stevenson said the plans had attracted 76 letters of objection, with concerns raised about the loss of an important building. Residents had also called for the site to be retained for leisure or tourism use, and voiced concerns that the plans were not befitting of an important gateway to the town.

The Theatres Trust and 20th Century Society had both objected to the plans, he said, although government-funded conservation group Historic England had raised no objections.

Dudley Council leader Councillor Patrick Harley previously said he "completely" understood campaigners waiting to save the Hippodrome, but added they cannot "allow this discussion to continue for another decade after exhausting every opportunity to find an enormous amount of funding."

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