Theatres Trust slam councils 'preferential treatment' for Hippodrome plight

The national advisory public body for theatres has called on Dudley Council to reconsider their decision to bulldoze Dudley Hippodrome.

The council's cabinet has granted an extension to the Dudley Driverless Vehicle Consortium to develop a proposal which will include the demolition of the existing Hippodrome building, which has stood derelict on Castle Hill for a number of years.

However, bosses at the Trust argue that Dudley Council actively impeded the community group set up to support the theatre's revival, by submitting an application to demolish the theatre building when they took occupation, undermining any hope of the group securing external funding. A spokesperson for the Theatres Trust said:

"It seems unreasonable that a voluntary community group, working with no support, was not extended the same opportunity given to professional organisations to develop their business plan.

"This group was given a year, and council support, to develop a viable business plan which it has failed to deliver by the deadline. This is particularly concerning as the community group who were previously in occupation of the theatre had its five year lease terminated after just one year due to nondelivery of the same."

A late-1930s purpose-built variety theatre, the Hippodrome is Dudley’s only remaining lyric theatre and has been on the Theatres Trust 'Theatres at Risk Register' since 2010. It became a bingo hall in 1964 but was well maintained and the interior still has a theatrical ‘feel’. The Trust note that later alterations within the auditorium are fully reversible and it would be possible to return the theatre to use for live performance.

Dudley Hippodrome's auditorium. Credit: Theatres Trust

When handed the lease of the building, the Hippodrome supporters group appointed architects to look at visioning proposals for the Hippodrome as a cultural hub for the community. Early stage concept proposals included a large extension on the right side of the building to house a new entrance,
cafe and box office, as well as a first floor bar and restaurant for the reopened venue.

However, feeling within the group is that Dudley Council had no intention of working to save the venue, with its fate already decided by senior officals. Previous plans to incorporate the land as part of Dudley Zoo's entrance and to demolish the building to make a new car park fell through, with the new bid from the DDVC being agreed to twelve months ago. The spokesperson added:

"There is still an active group trying to save this theatre who, with the same level of support and amount of time offered to the driverless car consortium, may be able to develop a viable plan.

"While councillors speak of the need for ambition and are investigating the potential of a new entertainment venue in Dudley, they refuse to consider a pre-existing and prominent building that could serve this purpose and would have less environmental impact than building a new venue.

"The Hippodrome presents an opportunity for Dudley and we call on the council to consider it as an option in its plans for a new entertainment venue."


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