Time to 'draw a line under Dudley Hippodrome', says council

It is time to draw a line under the Dudley Hippodrome furore and look to the future, a council boss has said.

Dudley Hippodrome today
Dudley Hippodrome today

Supporters of the theatre were dealt a major blow this week as members of Dudley Council's Development Control Committee meeting voted in favour of demolishing the building to make way for a new university-style campus.

Campaigners have said it's a "wasted opportunity" but Councillor Simon Phipps, cabinet member for regeneration and enterprise, said all realistic options for regenerating the building had been exhausted.

Dudley Hippodrome has sat derelict for more than a decade, and has been subjected to vandalism over the years. Supporters want to turn it back into an arts venue.

Councillor Phipps said: "This project is moving in the right direction. We have the funding already confirmed and a recommendation by our planning committee to go ahead with demolition.

"We now just need to wait for a final decision from the Secretary of State before we can proceed.

"I understand the committee’s recommendation will come as a blow to those who have campaigned for years to bring the Hippodrome back into use as a theatre. But we have to acknowledge that we have exhausted all realistic options and now is the time to draw a line under what’s gone before and look to the future.

"The university centre would mark the start of an exciting new chapter, complementing the £1 billion regeneration taking place right now in our town centre.

"The new building would open up views to our historic castle and will importantly expand the learning opportunities in our borough. It would give people the chance to study higher degrees courses on their doorstep, in our borough, which we’re confident will lead to employment opportunities here too."

The Theatres Trust has been working with Dudley Hippodrome Trust to save the theatre.

Theatres Trust national planning adviser Tom Clarke spoke at the meeting on Wednesday night, and said he was disappointed by the council's decision.

Protesters against the demolition

He said: "Theatres Trust is extremely disappointed in the decision by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council to give planning permission for the demolition of the Hippodrome. This is despite our strong objections as our national remit to protect theatres, and a large turnout from the Friends of Dudley Hippodrome and other local supporters.

"Dudley Hippodrome has been on our Theatres at Risk Register since 2010 in recognition of the building’s status as an increasingly rare 1930s purpose-built variety theatre with a lavish Art Deco interior and that it had the potential to provide a live performance space that Dudley is lacking.

"We believed there was prospect for a viable future for the Hippodrome as a performance venue, reimagining this heritage asset as a catalyst for growth within the town centre, supporting local businesses. We made repeated representations to the council to this affect but unfortunately, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has never been willing to seriously explore this idea nor to engage with us fully in our official capacity at a statutory consultee.

"This is wasted opportunity and moreover, there are huge environmental implications associated with demolition. In the wake of Cop26, this seems even more of a poor decision and conflicts with the council’s own declaration of a climate emergency.

"Theatres Trust has requested the Secretary of State calls in this application. This remains the last hope for this iconic building to be saved."

Although members were able to debate and vote on plans, the decision cannot be formalised until the council has heard from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove.

Earlier this year a request was submitted to the Secretary of State to consider whether the application should be determined by their department.

If given the final seal of approval by the Secretary of State, the Hippodrome site along with land that once accommodated the Plaza Cinema as well as the former JBs nightclub and martial arts centre would be used to create the new higher education facility, expected to be up and running by Autumn of 2024.

Dudley College of Technology agreed to work alongside the council to develop the new facility.

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