Express & Star

Hippodrome campaigners call for rethink as university scheme hit by £3m shortfall

Campaigners fighting to stop a Black Country theatre being demolished to make way for a nursing school have called for councillors to rethink the plans after a budget shortfall emerged.

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

Members of Dudley Council were last night told that rising costs had left a shortfall of £3-5 million in plans to knock down Dudley Hippodrome and replace it with a nursing school run by Worcester University.

The plans, which have received £25 million in 'Levelling Up' funding from the Government, were approved at a heated meeting of the council's planning committee in November 2021.

But council leader Councillor Patrick Harley revealed that forecasts from an independent consultant showed there would be a shortfall of £3-5 million of the scheme.

The nursing school was due to admit its first students in September next year.

In a report to last night's meeting of Dudley Council, Councillor Harley said: "Cost modelling undertaken by independent cost consultant shows a £3-5m shortfall in funding for the consented building.

"Therefore, the council and Dudley College are seeking funding from public bodies which benefit from the scheme, including regional government and the NHS."

Councillor Harley said the team was also seeking funding of specific items of equipment from private sector donors.

But he said if the extra funding could not be secured, the alternative would be to reduce the size of the project.

The present scheme is for a 47,000 sq ft four-storey building, but the council might need to look at reducing it to 39,000 sq ft over three floors.

This would see plans for an NHS diagnostic centre also being dropped from the plan.

The former Dudley Hippodrome faces demolition

Dave Homer of the Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust said the shortfall showed that there was still a long way to go on the university plan.

He called on the authority to meet with him to discuss his latest proposals for the theatre to be turned into a mixed-use leisure site.

Mr Homer said the latest plans were on a much smaller scale than previously put forward.

Mr Homer said the planning permission granted in 2021 specifically said the Hippodrome could not be demolished until the developer had a fully costed scheme in place which it would be able to complete.

But if the plan had to be scaled back, new planning permission would need to be sought, meaning that the theatre could not be demolished until the new plans were approved.

He said the council was still in the process of trying to secure the adjacent skating rink building, which in more recent years has served as the JB's nightclub and a banqueting suite.

"At the moment the shortfall is running at £3-5 million, but who's to say that in another couple of years it might be £10 million?" said Mr Homer.

"We're not against bringing this higher education centre to Dudley, but there are other locations where it could be built."

Councillor Harley also revealed that the neighbouring Very Light Rail Innovation Centre had also gone £890,000 over budget.