Supporters of efforts to bring the Hippodrome back into use have collected a petition signed by 3,000 people and handed it in to Brighton and Hove City Council.
The signatures were collected over three open days in support of the owner’s contention that the building is for performance and entertainment after the council said that it had no legal use.
When the Save Brighton Hippodrome group presented the petition at Hove Town Hall, they were joined by Simon Lambor, a director of Matsim, the Brighton family business that owns the venue.
Mr Lambor, 33, handed in a formal application at the same time for a lawful development certificate, with a 500-page dossier of evidence in support to counter the suggestion that the Hippodrome had “nil use”.
The application comes more than a year after Matsim applied for planning permission and listed building consent to revive the 125-year-old grade II* listed building.
He and his family have spent more than £5 million of their own money – with no taxpayer funding – fixing the leaking roof, dealing with dry rot and restoring parts of the interior.
But they said that they had hit a bureaucratic roadblock. They need planning permission before they can carry out any further work and said that they were waiting for the council to set a date to decide the planning applications. The council said that these would be dealt with next month or in November.
Matsim said that it had been in discussions with the council since buying the Hippodrome three years ago when the Victorian building was in need of urgent disrepair.
The discussions have had at their heart the family’s desire to restore the decaying architectural gem so that people can once again come and see and hear live acts perform.
Matsim said: “In June of this year, two and a half years into our discussions, we were told by the planning officer that the they had decided that the building had a ‘nil use’.
“As a result, the council would treat the proposal as a brand new venue that should have conditionality placed on its return to use that would make the project wholly unviable.
“It is of course a 125-year-old grade II* listed performance venue that enjoyed over a century of bringing people together through performance.
“Although it has been closed for a significant period, we believe its established planning use as a theatre for live performance is alive.
“The building’s amazing history is locally prolific and consistently cited fondly. This amazing history also applies to the bingo club years when live performance continued and the building made even more memories for attendees and staff.
“As recently as July 2014 the council acknowledged this fact in writing. At that time, Academy Music Group (AMG) had a lease on the building which required live performance.
“AMG did not dispose of the building until 2017, at which point it was sold to our predecessor.
“All owners and leaseholders during this building’s closed years have spent significant time and sums of money consulting with the aim of reopening it as a performance venue.”
The council’s decision that the building has no legal use was made just months after the council issued a premises licence for the Hippodrome.
The licence, issued last November, allows the sale of food and refreshment until midnight and alcoholic drink until 11.30pm every day of the year.
It also permits live entertainment, including music, dance, plays and indoor sport. The licence covers recorded music and films as well as such live sports as boxing and wrestling.
Drinks licences in the centre of Brighton often have conditions that prohibit “vertical drinking” but the Hippodrome licence allows standing customers to drink in the auditorium during performances.
Mr Lambor said that Matsim’s solicitor had diligently gathering the facts that demonstrate how the building was used throughout its history, with live entertainment continuing throughout the bingo club years.
Mr Lambor added: “We are making an application for a certificate that live performance is a lawful established use and cannot be taken away.
“Any reasonable Brightonian knows that the Hippodrome is a performance venue. It will remain that and have a legal certificate saying so.”
The council said: “We are very keen to see the important grade II* Listed Hippodrome brought back into use. The applicants have proposed to create a new mixed use development in the current application (BH2022/02443) which requires planning permission.
“Although officers have previously expressed a view that the overall use may have been ‘abandoned’ as it has been vacant for the last 17 years, a formal determination has not yet been made.
“The council will review the newly submitted application for a lawful development certificate and issue a decision in due course.
“With regards to the current live planning applications, we have to make sure that the proposals for the building fall within planning and listed building rules and local and national policies before they go before our Planning Committee.
“That is why we have been asking the applicant, for some months, for additional information to support the current application.
“If we do not do this, there is a risk that the decision will not be considered to have sufficiently addressed all relevant matters and could significantly delay the final decision-making stage – putting the future of the building in further uncertainty.”