17th November was “Love Theatre Day” around the world, and huge numbers of theatres, theatre owners, creatives and local authorities took to social media to celebrate their creative community hubs and the pleasure, stimulation and community cohesion they bring.
Everywhere in the world was out celebrating these jewels in their communities.
All, that is, except Dudley.
This was the day when the hopelessly out of touch Dudley Council’s planning committee met to nod through the application for demolition of their only remaining professional theatre in the area. The destruction of a community-owned building sitting in a Conservation Area on land gifted to the people of Dudley. In one vote the Council members took the assets of the community away and voted to destroy them.
In a meeting described by one attendee as “an unmitigated shambles”, committee members wandered back and forth, engaging in side discussions, rarely giving any speakers or objector their full attention. Tom Clarke of the Theatres Trust had kindly agreed to step up and speak for the Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust, the passionate and committed Hippodrome supporters group which is trying to retain, refurbish and reopen this vital community resource, only to be ignored by substantial numbers of those of the committee present.
Worse still, the owner of the adjacent business, Mr Gurminder Singh, which has been running successfully as a function hall, was given no opportunity to speak to save his business into which he has poured his family’s investment and his own life savings into,. This is Council dealings at their shabbiest.
The outcome of the decision is far from unexpected. Only one councillor voted against the demolition, and for that we thank her (I cannot find her name at present but will update when I find it).
The decision now goes to Michael Gove (!?!) for oversight, so we won’t hold our breath on that one…
But the fight is far from over, and the supporters now regroup to consider their next moves. As Sue Bolton, one of the leading lights of the campaign to save the theatre, said, “It’s not over until the lady sings”
Theatres Trust later said: “We are extremely disappointed in the decision by Dudley Council to give planning permission for the demolition of Dudley Hippodrome. A wasted opportunity to reimagine a heritage asset as a catalyst for growth.”
Here is the Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust’s full report about how the meeting was conducted:
“Because of poor acoustics and poor microphones, we are unsure who presented the council’s application to demolish the theatre. After reading out from the documents for quite a while he then referred to an animated “fly through” video on screen, which did not work. After several failed attempts to get it to work, our one and only permitted objector was called up to speak while further attempts were made.
While the objector, Tom Clarke, the National Planning Adviser from Theatres Trust, who had travelled up from London was speaking to the committee, someone got up and walked directly across the room, distracting Mr Clarke, to speak to the tech guy. There was chatting on the top table and then another councillor got up to join the conversation with the tech guy! It was clear committee members had not read the documentation beforehand as they were reading it rather than listening. We were appalled at that moment.
Following this, DMBC not only got its planning agent to speak, but then got another further chance (at length) to recommend demolition! Our objector had just 3 minutes. A second objector, Mr G. Singh, whose livelihood has been ruined by Metro works and a probable CPO was not permitted to speak despite several requests to allow him to, as an exception. Other councils allow up to 15 speakers.
It was obvious to the observers from the start that the decision had been made before the meeting as not one objection was even mentioned, discussed or argued, particularly regarding the National Planning Policy Framework.
Dudley Council was seeking its own planning permission to demolish a heritage asset, which it owns, to be replaced by something that Dudley council proposes, without proper consultation with the electorate.
There were numerous quality robust objections from Theatres Trust, The C20 Society, Historic Buildings and Places, Save Britain’s Heritage and even the Art Deco Society UK. There were even strong objections from David Ward, The Earl of Dudley, Leander Ward, heir to the title and Tracy Ward, the Duchess of Beaufort.
Our opinion is that DMBC presented false information and photoshopped images to persuade councillors, who were clearly unable to get to Castle Hill and A461 Birmingham Road to see how visible the Castle is from that direction. The image of the new building appeared shrunk and the views presented as if a vistor would arrive on the top of a double decker bus.
The whole case was treated like it was an application for an extension. There should be no need to present false images if the project is worth doing.
Historic England have admitted that their analysis of the scheme had been concluded from information provided, yet the council ‘padded’ this out to about 20 pages from an initial A4 size appraisal, without Historic England visiting the site or looking inside either building.
Are you shocked ??
I know what I think. How about You?