Hippodrome supporters protest ahead of council meeting this evening

Campaigners vying to save Dudley’s former Hippodrome theatre from demolition have staged a protest outside the Castle Hill venue, ahead of a full cabinet meeting later to decide its fate.

Members of Black Country Hippodrome Limited - the company formed to take on the lease from the council - and their supporters converged on the theatre this morning to make their views heard before the buildings fate is scrutinised this evening.

Dudley Council claim the group have made ‘no viable progress’ in their efforts to save the site, despite five milestones being agreed when the keys were handed over. However director of the company, Paul Collins, told Black Country Radio that the team behind the campaign dispute the councils claims, saying they have met a number of those milestones with the remainder now being impossible to meet after they were denied access to the building.

The Health and Safety executive has ruled that nobody can access the Hippodrome until asbestos has been removed and the site made safe; a costly process that would require Black Country Hippodrome Limited to raise funds from external sources. Mr Collins said:

“We’re stuck in a vicious circle. We can’t move forward without funding, but to apply for serious grants we need a guarantee of a lease thats longer than the current five years. No funding body will consider your application based on that length of time and for the council to revoke our lease because of that would be wholly unfair.

“We’re aware that discussions have been taking place with other potential buyers and that seems inappropriate when no firm decision on the site’s future has been made. Indeed, we currently have a number of years left on our existing agreement.”

However, the report, which will go before the council’s cabinet at a meeting this evening, says a number of targets were agreed upon with a cut off date of August last year, as a condition of the lease. Bosses claim that four of those – completing and documenting a feasible funding strategy; providing that funding strategy to the landlord; carrying out a complete feasibility study on the project and starting to carry out building surveys and drawing up a proposed scheme – have not been achieved, despite the council granting the group an extra three months to show it could meet them. Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of the council, said:

“It is with regret and a heavy heart that we have to do this. We wanted [Black Country Hippodrome Ltd] to make it work. We have given the group every opportunity, including extra time, to prove it could get this off the ground - now we feel is the time to say enough is enough.

“Whilst some progress has been made in certain aspects, that progress has been slow. The council feels there is not enough clear evidence in place to give us a belief the group can deliver what it wants to deliver.

The decision on the buildings future will be made at a full cabinet meeting this evening.


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