Campaigners fear that the Brighton Hippodrome is about to sold to a developer who may not plan to keep it is as a theatre.
The Theatre Trust, which rates the Hippodrome as the most at-risk theatre in the country, has just written to Brighton and Hove City Council after hearing that current owners Academy Music Group (AMG) may be about to sell it.
They urge the council to inform any potential new owners of the need to safeguard the Grade II* theatre’s future use.
And meanwhile, the city council is trying to arrange a visit to inspect the derelict theatre to see if any action is needed to safeguard it against disrepair.
The Theatre Trust’s letter reads: “It is important that any new or potential owner has a clear understanding of the community expectations and conservation requirements for this theatre and the planning restrictions on developing the site to safeguard future theatre use.
“There is no doubt that restoration and reuse of the Hippodrome for live performance is the best outcome for the building in terms of its conservation and would provide the optimum viable use consistent with the heritage significance of the building.
“The focus of any future planning discussions for the Hippodrome should therefore ensure a scheme which will deliver full restoration as a live venue or, at the very least, ensure a scheme that would not preclude future reuse as a lyric theatre.”
The Brighton Hippodrome CIC, which was formed following a campaign to stop now-abandoned plans to convert the theatre into a cinema, has raised £100,000 to fund detailed building surveys and has a partner – as yet unnamed – interested in bringing it back to life as a theatre.
But it has not been able to negotiate a possible sale with AMG because of two exclusivity agreements with other developers on the site, which have run from January this year, with just a two-day break between the two.
Professor Gavin Henderson, chair of Brighton Hippodrome CIC and former director of Brighton Festival, said: “Apart from the need to restore the richly decorated interior by Britain’s greatest theatrical architect Frank Matcham, there is an abundant need for Brighton to recover a ‘number one’ touring venue, with full stage and seating capacity to attract the major touring shows and national theatre, opera and ballet companies that currently have no adequate theatre in this region.
“The Hippodrome is all set to become a superb complement to Brighton’s vibrant entertainment and arts scene.”
The CIC says its discussions with Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund have been positive in support of its approach.
The CIC also sponsored BHCC’s character statement for the Old Town Conservation Area, in the centre of which stands the Hippodrome, on behalf of Brighton and Hove City Council,
The council is now preparing a management plan for the area, which is expected to recommend a planning brief for the Hippodrome to play a pivotal part in the city’s cultural infrastructure.
The CIC has also urged the city council to consider issuing a notice on the owners to repair the building before it deteriorates any further.
A council spokeswoman said: “We haven’t issued any notices on the owners. Once we’ve arranged an inspection with the owners we can consider if any action is necessary to address the condition of the building.
“We we are trying to arrange an inspection but no current dates/plans in place. The last inspection by council officers was in May 2015.”