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Hippodrome campaigners to fight on after council setback

Brighton Hippodrome's proscenium arch. Photo: The Theatres Trust
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Campaigners wanting to see Brighton Hippodrome restored as a live venue have vowed to continue their fight, despite the local council’s decision to support plans to convert the disused venue into a cinema complex.

National advisory body The Theatres Trust and the Our Brighton Hippodrome group have written to the Department for Communities and Local Government, urging secretary of state Eric Pickles to intervene.

They want Pickles to call in the plans – a process in which a public inquiry is launched before the minister comes to a decision. This would provide more time to develop an alternative business plan for the grade II*-listed, 1,400-seat venue as a live performance space, they said.

Carole Bremson, from the Our Brighton Hippodrome campaign, said the theatre – which opened as an ice rink in 1897 and was later redesigned by theatre architect Frank Matcham for use as a circus – was an “outstanding building”.

“It is a national treasure, and this planning decision needs to be considered at a much higher level,” she said.

Meanwhile, Royal Central School for Speech and Drama principal Gavin Henderson, who was artistic director of Brighton Festival for 12 years, said the campaign to save the venue must now move into “top gear”.

“Commercial theatre producers really want this venue in use and can see a cost-effective life for the building in the future. The great gap in their major touring schedules is Brighton because the city’s 900-seat Theatre Royal is not suitable for the larger shows,” he said.

Earlier this year, Ambassador Theatre Group – which owns Theatre Royal Brighton – wrote to the local authority confirming that both venues could operate “happily in harness” and that it would be interested to run the Hippodrome if it were to be restored.

At a meeting last week, Brighton and Hove City Council’s planning committee agreed to the proposals, which would see the building become a £20 million, eight-screen cinema and restaurant complex.

The local authority’s planning committee chairman Phelim Mac Cafferty said that “in an ideal world” an application to restore the building as a theatre would have been put forward, but this hadn’t happened.

He said: “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, he confirmed that Alaska Development Consultants’ plans for the venue had not yet been given the green light because the committee had agreed to defer the application decision to the DCLG based on the Victorian Society’s concerns about the “substantial harm” that would be caused by changes to the auditorium.

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