Express & Star

'Demolition of beloved JB's music venue is council bulldozing Dudley's history'

A public inquiry into plans for a new university in Dudley has been told the borough council has bulldozed the town’s history.

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Dudley Council is asking planning inspector Katie McDonald to approve a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on two properties on Castle Hill in Dudley, including the former JB’s music venue.

During the hearing objectors were given a chance to air their views and a campaigner who fought to save Dudley Hippodrome, which was demolished as part of the project, hit out at the council.

Marlene Watson said: “We have never been allowed to have a voice, it’s never been a level playing field.”

During their battle to save the theatre, campaigners took a five-year lease on the historic building in a bid to restore it and prevent its destruction.

Mrs Watson said: “We were making progress but a five-year lease – you can not do anything with that. We needed 20 years, we were bound to fail.”

She also described being told the council has the power to bypass a covenant on the site which said it was only to be used for entertainment.

Mrs Watson said: “We were told ‘we can get out of it’ – and they can legally but it will cost a lot – they have bulldozed Dudley’s history.”

Dudley Council argues The Friends of Dudley Hippodrome submitted three business plans for the theatre which were all assessed and found not to be viable.

Other proposals between 2010, when the council bought the derelict theatre, and 2020 failed to get off the ground.

A year later demolition was approved on the grounds that Dudley would benefit more from redeveloping the site than leaving the Hippodrome standing.

In his opening submission to the inquiry Dudley Council’s barrister, Robert Walton KC, revealed all objections from the owners of buildings that had CPOs applied to them had been withdrawn after deals had been agreed to buy the properties.

The inquiry heard the final deal had been done with the owners of Castle Hill Suite, the former JB’s building, on April 29 after a lengthy process of negotiations.

Despite CPOs becoming redundant because the council owns all the land, the inquiry was still required to deal with matters related to leases for parts of the site.

Mr Walton said: “It could not sensibly be suggested that any of the remaining objections raise any points that could possibly justify the rejection of the CPO.”

Castle and Priory ward councillor Karl Denning quizzed Malcolm Newman, who handled the negotiations for the authority, on why demolition of the Hippodrome had taken place before all the land for the project had been acquired.

Mr Newman said: “It was a measured risk, I was confident we would be able to complete the assembly of the land.”

The council also disagrees that there was no consultation. In a response to objectors the authority said: “The council undertook a consultation exercise during November and December 2020 including the distribution of questionnaires to all properties within a quarter of a mile of Dudley town centre, and virtual engagement sessions organised with 50 community groups, businesses and wards members.

“Respondents were asked whether they supported the proposals for regenerating the town centre, including a new university centre on the site of the former Hippodrome theatre.

“A total of 957 responses were received and 85 percent confirmed that if a new facility is to be built it should be used for training and education purposes.”

The inquiry was adjourned and a ruling is expected within two weeks.