The Brighton Hippodrome is being left to rot while its owners try and sell it to developers, campaigners claim.
Two and a half years ago, the Our Hippodrome campaign thought it had finally reached an agreement with the historic theatre’s new owners which would allow them to restore it and stage performances there once more, following the collapse of plans to convert it into a cinema.
But since then, Academy Music Group, which bought the theatre in April 2014, has entered into two exclusivity agreements with other developers to give them the option to buy it while they put together a business plan.
The first ended without a sale, and the second is now in force with no agreed end point, details of what is being planned, or by whom, publicly available.
And meanwhile, the only work undertaken to safeguard the theatre, which has topped the Theatre Trust’s at risk register since 2014, has been the installation of security fencing, while the fabric of the building itself has been left to deteriorate even further.
David Fisher of Our Hippodrome said: “It worries us that this scheme might not happen. Meanwhile, the building is continuing to deteriorate. It’s covered in graffiti. We have been talking to the council and we are hoping that what they will do now is issue a repairs notice.
“Back at the end of last year we were pretty close to having a deal with the developer which would allow us to go ahead. We were almost there.
“Then a consortium came along and got an exclusive agreement. What expired we spoke to the owners and they said there’s no deal and so we were then free to go ahead.
“However, our potential development partner rang AMG up two days later and there was another exclusivity agreement with someone different. And we can’t find out who it is.
“We don’t know how long it is for. It may be just a short term thing or long term. The problem with this exclusivity agreement is that the first one didn’t get anywhere. If this next one can’t stack it up, the building will continue to deteriorate.
“It’s not in great condition – the last time I was in there 18 months ago we could hear the rain dropping on the carpet.
“They may have come up with a scheme which doesn’t involved the restoration in a bid to make the finances stack up. for instance, there’s an opportunity to build over the yard off Ship Street which we need to retain to give access for trucks delivering theatre sets.”
The Brighton Hippodrome Community Interest Company has to date spent £100,000 on a viability study, building services, quantities and estimates. These suggest that it could be restored, but at a significant cost, with £5million needed just to reverse the damage to the building.
Mr Fisher added: “That’s not the sort of money which allows a commercial developer to get its money back easily. AMG couldn’t make it stack up in 2012. The cinema scheme couldn’t, the first consortium which had the first exclusivity agreement couldn’t, and now we have this fourth scheme.
“We were fairly confident that we could make it stack up because we are a not for profit and we can access grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, the Coastal Communities Fund etc.
“We are now working on revising our business plan to show how the revenue stream would work once it has been restored. We are very confident that we can raise the money to restore the theatre.”
Planning permission was granted in July 2014 to convert the theatre into a cinema, cafes, restaurants, shops and offices. However, the consortium which applied for permission did not proceed with the scheme, and the theatre was bought by AMG in April 2015.
AMG then had a 22-year leasehold on the building, and it’s understood that buying the freehold was a way of cutting its losses on the disused theatre.
The first exclusivity agreement started in January 2017, and ended in July 2017. The second started two days later, and it’s not known when it will end.
Brighton and Hove City Council and AMG were approached for comment, but had not responded by the time of publication.