Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas has called for urgent repairs to the Hippodrome as it tops the list of the UK’s most at-risk theatres for the fifth time.
The Hippodrome’s current owner Hipp Investments unveiled a first look at its plans for the Grade II* listed theatre a year ago – but a promised consultation never took place after Historic England said it needed to build a sustainable business case.
Hipp’s plans were also affected by extra planning protections brought in for the Middle Street theatre’s fly-tower and car park, both of which are crucial to it being able to stage large-scale, West End style shows.
Meanwhile, the community interest company set up by campaigners to run the theatre has continued to build its own case to run the theatre – and this week, Caroline Lucas gave them her backing.
She said: “Yet again the Hippodrome tops the Theatre Trust’s list of at-risk theatres.
“This wonderful old building, which has contributed so much to the life of Brighton and could do so again, is being left to rot. I’m really concerned that it will deteriorate even further if it isn’t brought back into use very soon.
“The Hippodrome needs a viable future and it could have one if it were restored to life as a lyric theatre again, breathing new life into the area around Middle Street.
“I’ve kept in close touch with both campaigners and the council over the years to try to ensure the theatre’s survival.
“Last week I met again with Brighton Hippodrome CIC, who are looking to buy the Hippodrome to restore the building and re-open it as a commercial theatre, working hard to raise the funds needed.
“Our city currently lacks a theatre big enough to host larger shows and performances and this would fill that gap.
“There are some great examples of theatres being run by charitable trusts, with some of the funding being provided by council applications to the Public Works Loan Board, so following my meeting with campaigners I’m going back to the council to ask about the support they might be able to consider to enable us to do something similar here.
“I’ve also asked the Council to issue a repair order to prevent the building continuing to fall further into disrepair.
“It is so clear to me that the Hippodrome is a hugely valuable local asset whose re-opening would bring so many benefits to the local economy and community, helping to kickstart much needed investment into the area. Letting it deteriorate still further would be unforgiveable.”
A council spokesperson said: “We last met with the Hippodrome owner and architects at the end of July and at that time the scheme was progressing. We’re not aware that the project has stalled and are still expecting to receive either a pre-application submission or a formal planning application.
“Together with Historic England, we have been regularly monitoring the condition of the building. We most recently visited in December.
“We have asked the owners to carry out various repair works to keep the building secure and weathertight as far as possible until its long term future is resolved.
“Some of the works that we have requested have been completed, and the owners are now organising for further, more substantive repairs to be carried out.
“We agree that the Hippodrome needs a viable future. Together with Historic England, we are working with the owners to ensure that their long-term proposals are appropriate for the building and wider area.”
Last May, the council said the works which needed doing were:
- clearing gutters
- repairing flat roofs where water has been ponding
- providing more effective temporary scaffold support to the plaster ceiling in the auditorium
- providing sufficient cross-ventilation in the building and removing redundant carpeting and furniture to aid ventilation
- removing a pigeon infestation in part of the building to include safe removal of pigeon droppings.
Hipp Investments did not respond to requests for comment.
This is the fifth year the Hippodrome has topped the Theatre Trust’s at-risk register.
In 2014, plans were put forward by potential buyers to convert it into a cinema – but although planning permission was given, the consortium of investors pulled out.
It was then bought by the Academy Music Group, but the site was then mothballed. It was bought by Hipp Investments in 2017.
The buiding first opened as an ice skating rink in 1897, designed by Lewis Karslake. A few years later it became a circus briefly, to Frank Matcham’s design. Soon after he converted it into a theatre and concert venue.
The Beatles and the Rolling Stones played there. Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy made appearances. Max Miller, the Crazy Gang and Laurence Olivier also starred.
In 1965 the Rank Organisation turned the Hippodrome into a bingo hall. It was known as the Mecca until it closed in 2007.