Hopes to revive the derelict Dudley Hippodrome have been dealt a blow after the local council backed proposals to use it as a test centre for driverless vehicles.
The Theatres Trust has said it is a “great shame” that Dudley Council does not wish to see the theatre reopened for an arts use.
The Hippodrome, which is fourth on the Theatres Trust Theatre Buildings at Risk Register, closed in the 1960s.
Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council purchased the building in 2010, and submitted plans to demolish it in that year and again in 2013.
However in 2016, campaigners from a group called the Black Country Hippodrome were granted a five-year lease to try to save the building, with the keys to the theatre officially handed over to them in December that year. However, just a year into the lease, the council took back control of the building.
Now the council has turned down an expression of interest from a campaign group called Dudley Hippodrome Community Group, which proposes the retention and an estimated £12 million refurbishment of the existing building.
However a council report said the proposal “does not fully meet the basic requirements of the brief” with the group “acknowledging their inexperience in delivering major refurbishment projects”.
The council report instead recommends the council accepts proposals submitted by the Dudley Driverless Vehicles Consortium, to create a site to test driverless vehicles.
Councillor Keiran Casey, cabinet member for regeneration and enterprise, said: “We have looked extremely carefully at both proposals to make sure we can make an informed decision.
“The preferred option at this stage is to look at working with the Dudley Driverless Vehicles Consortium on developing its proposals.”
Theatres adviser at the Theatres Trust Tom Stickland said: “The Dudley Hippodrome Community Group has been proactive in trying to save the local theatre and it is a great shame to see that the council does not share its ambitions.
“While the theatre is still standing there is still a chance to save it, and we will look to see what partnerships are possible with the preferred operators and to use our statutory role in the planning system to protect the theatre.”
Dudley cabinet will decide if they accept the council officers’ recommendations at a meeting on December 6.