Turning point for Derby Hippodrome

Natalie Woolman

Campaigners fighting a two-year battle to save Derby Hippodrome have won a key victory after council officers recommended the local authority reject developer Christopher Anthony’s application to demolish part of the venue.

Members of Derby City Council planning control committee will decide today (July 8) whether to accept their experts’ advice.

However, even in the event of a rejection of the recommendation, any decision on the future of the Grade II-listed building must be referred to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles.

Theatres Trust planning and heritage adviser Mark Price stated he was “delighted” with the officers’ recommendation, which cites the possibility of reopening the venue among the reasons for opposing Anthony’s application.

Said Price: “We hope that options around a new cultural and community facility will now be considered for the site. We remain convinced that the theatre can be repaired, restored and adapted to once again become a valued cultural facility for the city of Derby.”

Anthony, who first submitted his planning application more than a year ago, wants to knock down part of the early 20th-century building and turn the site into a multi-storey car park, a retail unit, offices and three apartments.

The officers’ report advises refusing listed building consent and planning permission because the “potential of other community groups interested in the rescue and re-use of the listed building, as a theatre or otherwise, has not been explored” and because the building has not yet been advertised on the open market at a “realistic price”.

The developer insists that the Hippodrome, which was last used as a theatre in 1959, after which it was converted to a bingo hall, can no longer revert to its original use. It was damaged by storms in 2007, a fire in 2008 and recently Anthony pleaded guilty to demolishing a section of the site in the same year.

Roger Fox, chair of the Association of British Theatre Technicians’ historical research committee, said that the Hippodrome could be reinstated as a theatre.

He said: “It could be a very good performance space. With modernisation, it is perfectly possible to adapt and put [in] disabled access and a better stage with more facilities because the basis of the building is very strong.”

Anthony’s planning application insists that an urgent decision must be taken on the building.

However, Joe Aveline, treasurer of the Derby Hippodrome Restoration Fund, said there is no immediate rush.

He commented: “This is a pretty tricky time financially in this country. I think you have to accept, with a listed building, that time is not of the essence.

“With a listed building, it’s babies and bath water isn’t it. If you destroy the building, it’s gone forever.

“While most of it still exists, you can get to work with what’s left, but it does not seem to me to matter greatly if you can’t do the fund-raising right away.”

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