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Dudley Hippodrome will be demolished, council rules

Plans to demolish Dudley Hippodrome to make way for a university park have been approved.

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Protestors against the proposed demolition of Dudley Hippodrome gather at Dudley Town Hall before the meeting to determine the building's future

The controversial proposals went in front of Dudley Council's Development Control Committee on Wednesday night and were approved by majority – prompting a sudden outburst from the public gallery.

Chairman Andrea Goddard chose to adjourn the meeting while security removed members of the public. One man shouted "you're a joke" and "you don't care about us".

The plans recommended that the Art Deco theatre be knocked down, along with the neighbouring former skating rink, to be replaced with a multi-million pound university campus specialising in nursing and healthcare courses.

The theatre was built in 1938 and hosted stage stars such as Laurel & Hardy and Bing Crosby but shut in 1964 and became a gala bingo until that closed in 2009. It has been empty ever since despite attempts to restore the building to its former glory.

Around a dozen campaigners fighting to save the Hippodrome gathered outside the front of Dudley Town Hall ahead of the meeting, holding banners reading "Save our Dudley Hippodrome" and "Hippodrome will be bostin for our town".

Dudley Hippodrome how it looks today

And they were vocal when councillors voted to demolish the building, causing the meeting to halt temporarily.

Chairman Councillor Goddard reassured the public that the decision is still subject to approval from Michael Gove - the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing - who has the power to "call in" the scheme for review.

The demolition plans attracted 76 letters of objection from supporters of the Hippodrome, who want it to remain as an entertainment venue.

Tom Clarke spoke on behalf of the supporters at the meeting, saying: "The Hippodrome is not a problem but a huge opportunity for this town. It just needs some vision.

"It could really enhance this part of the town, bringing people in.

"It shouldn't be seen as a problem but an investment with potentially huge return. If you make a decision to demolish the Hippodrome, it would be the worst possible decision you could make and would reflect poorly on the council."

The interior of the Dudley Hippodrome viewed in 1957

Karen Hartley, agent for the Hippodrome site on behalf of the council, said to the meeting: "This could be a real good news story for Dudley. There's no real higher education offer here, and this would address shortages in the health sector.

"Significant work has gone into designing this. Importantly it will open up long lost views of the castle, which was a key view of the design.

"This is the best option. The Hippodrome has been vacant for more than a decade and reusing it as a cultural opportunity has been fully explored.

"The proposals provide an exciting opportunity to bring higher education to Dudley."

Bruce Forsyth, Roy Castle, Ben Warris and Ken Dodd

Councillor Elaine Taylor said: "Sadly this is an example of yet another iconic building being allowed to deteriorate."

All councillors voted to approve the plans to demolish the Hippodrome, bar Councillor Taylor who objected. Councillor Shaneila Mughal abstained.

Hippodrome history

1938 - Dudley Hippodrome is built on the site of Dudley Opera House, which was destroyed by a fire in 1936. It remains open as a variety theatre until 1964, showcasing top acts including Laurel and Hardy.

1964 - After the theatre closes The Hippodrome is used as a bingo hall by Gala Bingo, and is kept in good condition during this time.

2009 - Gala Bingo shuts down, leaving the building empty.

2010 - Dudley Council takes ownership of the Hippodrome with plans to redevelop the site as a new entrance for Dudley Zoo – but this turns out not to be needed. The council has been trying to find a use for the building ever since, with it falling more and more into disrepair each year.

2014 - Council chiefs fork out more than £20,000 on the Hippodrome when vandals damage steel doors and security fencing – and they beef up their security measures.

2016 - Friends of Dudley Hippodrome, the main group campaigning for the building's survival, are given the keys to the facility in order to clean it up - but they are taken back by Dudley Council when the local authority rules volunteers will not be able to generate the necessary cash for its refurbishment.

2019 - The council is urged to step in after the building is subjected to more vandal attacks.

December 2016 - Hopeful news for the Hippodrome as the council decides to lease it to community group The Black Country Hippodrome Ltd (BCHL). BCHL appoints an architect to draw up plans for its vision of a restored Hippodrome reopened as a cultural hub for the community. The project lacks support from Dudley Council and fails to get off the ground.

2018 - The council decides to take a bid from the Dudley Driverless Vehicles Consortium to turn the Hippodrome into a driverless vehicle test centre.

September 2020 - The plans for a driverless vehicle test centre are abandoned and the council announces plans to demolish the theatre and replace is with an education centre as part of a new multi-million pound university park, due to open in 2024.

November 2021 - The university park plans are approved by councillors, prompting outcry from Hippodrome campaigners.

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