By Tim Ridgway, Latest TV
Brighton Hippodrome could “be lost forever as a theatre” with £18 million plans to convert it into a cinema and restaurant complex set to get the go-ahead.
The grade II* listed building in Middle Street has been used as an ice rink, circus, theatre, music venue and bingo hall during its 117-year history.
But with the building being vacant since 2007, Jersey-based developer Kuig Property Investments has come forward to convert the building and turn the area into an “entertainment hub”.
Despite thousands signing a petition calling for the Victorian building to be maintained as a theatre, planning experts at Brighton and Hove City Council have recommended the proposal be given the go-ahead at a planning committee meeting this Wednesday (July 16).
The plans will see the creation of an eight screen cinema with four associated restaurants.
If approved, then the former Hippodrome entrance on Middle Street would be restored while a new pedestrian walkway would be created between the building and adjacent Duke’s Lane.
With the building being deemed to be in poor quality and on English Heritage’s at-risk register, developers claim this is the last opportunity to save the historic building.
But campaigners are urging for more time to be able to see if it can raise the money to restore the building as a live performance venue.
A petition presented earlier this year said: “Such a venue would significantly enhance the city’s appeal to visitors, attracting audiences from across a wide area, including London, helping to make Brighton the principal cultural hub of the south-east region.”
The move was backed by industry chiefs including Cameron Mackintosh managing director Nicholas Allott, and Roundhouse artistic director and chief executive Marcus Davey.
But in the report, council experts claim the cost of restoring the building to 1,300 seater theatre would be about £17 million.
Claiming that Brighton was “already well-served” by theatres, planners said forecasts showed the Hippdorome as a theatre would operate at a a loss.
In summing, the council report said: “The buildings are in a poor and deteriorating state of repair such that they have been identified as Buildings at Risk on both the English Heritage and council registers.
“It has been satisfactorily demonstrated that the proposed development to part-demolish, extend and convert the buildings to form a cinema complex with associated restaurants represents the optimum viable use of the buildings.”
In response, The Theatre’s Trust has written to the government urging Whitehall officials to “call in” the application, claiming the proposals would not conserve the building.
The national body adds that the lack of a full marketing exercise means that it has “not been sufficiently demonstrated that there is no alternative viable use”.
The Hippodrome was built in 1896/7 as an indoor ice rink to serve Brighton’s burgeoning tourist market.
Shortly after it was converted to a circus by prolific theatre designer Frank Matcham, whose other works included The Grand in Blackpool, London Hippodrome, London Coliseum, and London Palladium.
The building was largely used as a performance venue for the next seven decades with Max Miller, The Rolling Stones and the Beatles among those treading the boards.
In 1965 it became a bingo hall before closing in 2007.
Amenity groups across the city were split on the plans.
The Regency Society is supportive, adding: “Buildings must evolve to
meet changing needs if they are to be preserved. A theatre use has not been
demonstrated as being viable since the building closed.”
But the Brighton Society claims: “Although restoring the building to its former use as a theatre would be the ideal solution, the Hippodrome’s poor condition and the risk that if restoration does not happen soon may well cause it to be lost entirely to the city.
“However, there are too many areas of the design which are poor.”
Local conservationist Averil Older said: “If this gets the go-ahead for a cinema then you’ll never be able to turn it back into a theatre.
“We need another cinema like we meed a hole in the head.
“On Wednesday we could lose it forever. It’s just very very sad.”