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Council approves Brighton Hippodrome cinema conversion plans

Brighton Hippodrome's proscenium arch. Photo: The Theatres Trust
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Brighton councillors have approved plans to convert the city’s grade-II* listed hippodrome into a  £20 million cinema house, despite calls from campaigners to turn the building back into a live performance venue.

At a meeting held yesterday, Brighton and Hove City Council’s planning committee agreed to the proposals, which would see the disused 1,400-seat Brighton Hippodrome become an eight-screen cinema and restaurant complex.

The local authority’s planning committee chair Phelim Mac Cafferty said that “in an ideal world” an application to restore the building as a theatre would have been put forward.

He said: “The sad reality of the situation is that we didn’t have that. The committee accepted that a theatre is unlikely to be viable.

“The committee felt that on balance it was better to have the building preserved as a cinema than deteriorating as an empty shell. If a viable theatre proposal comes forward in the future the conversion is designed to be reversible.”

However, the local council confirmed that Alaska Development Consultants’ plans for the venue – which opened as an ice rink in 1897 and was later re-designed by theatre architect Frank Matcham for use as a circus – had not yet been given the green light.

Following concerns from the Victorian Society about the “substantial harm” that would be caused by changes to the auditorium, the council said it would now defer the application decision to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The society said the insertion of a mezzanine floor would reduce the height and proportions of the auditorium and would split its proscenium in half.

Campaigners from Our Brighton Hippodrome and national advisory body the Theatres Trust, which want to see the venue restored for live shows, have already written to DCLG secretary Eric Pickles requesting that he call-in the planning application – a process in which a public inquiry is launched before the secretary makes the final decision.

The trust said it “deeply regrets” the council’s decision yesterday to approve the developer’s plans and will now reiterate its request to the DCLG for the application to be called-in.

Mhora Samuel, director of the Theatres Trust, said: “Brighton Hippodrome is a unique building of national cultural significance and further time is needed to come forward with a viable plan for its restoration as a theatre and performance venue. This use would be much less harmful to the historic significance of the building [than the cinema redevelopment].”

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