Dudley Hippodrome: Earl and family speak out against demolition as listing plans move forward

The Earl of Dudley and his family have weighed in to the heated debate surrounding Dudley Council’s vote to demolish the Art Deco theatre the Dudley Hippodrome, the only professional purpose-built area in the region and once celebrated as “The Showplace of the West Midlands”.

One thing you cannot say about the Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust, and its associated Friends and Supporters Group is that they lack spirit, energy and inspiration.

No sooner had the decision to demolish come out of a disorganised and patently undemocratic Council planning meeting, than the DHDT was in touch with the Earl of Dudley to enlist his support.

Not everyone knows that the Hippodrome is actually built upon land which was gifted to the people of Dudley by the current Earl’s ancestor. It is therefore particularly welcome that the current Earl and his family should speak out against the obliteration of this vital community cultural asset.

Interestingly, the land upon which the Hippodrome sits is also designated a Conservation Area, which is why the Hippodrome was never considered for listing as all buildings within a Conservation area automatically have protection- therefore listing was not needed. Now it appears that the Council have, without due consultation, re-drawn the boundary of this Conservation Area to specifically exclude the Hippodrome.

Once again, the DHDT superstars leapt into action and are now pursuing an application to have the Hippodrome listed. The body which decides on listings, English Heritage, earlier in the year raised no objection to the demolition of the Hippodrome, which raised many eyebrows and concerns. Was the government department THAT out of touch with reality? Well, it appears that English Heritage had based its decision on notes given to them by Dudley Council (who were hell-bent on getting rid of the much-loved venue at any cost). English Heritage then produced one-side of A4 not raising an objection to the demolition, which Dudley Council apparently swelled into a much longer document, magnifying English Heritage’s lack of objection to this demolition.

Perhaps English Heritage have had a wake-up call that they might have been steered into the wrong decision. Especially as nobody from English Heritage even bothered to visit the theatre itself before the decision was made. Of all the objections from notable bodies received, English Heritage’s was the only one in favour of demolition. Out of line with the rest, and most definitely out of touch. Has the whole process from all involved parties been sloppy and careless from start to finish? You decide.

Here is the statement from DHDT on December 3rd:

“As you all know, we are awaiting a decision from the Secretary of State regarding Theatres Trust and DHDT’s request for ‘call-in’ on the planning decision to demolish the Hippodrome. In the meantime, a considerable amount of evidence of the intactness of the Art Deco interior of the theatre building has been unearthed. So, we are pleased to announce that we have applied for Historical Listing through the official channels, and this new evidence has been submitted in support of a reconsideration of the 2011 decision to reject listing.

“The previous application for listing was rejected as many items were deemed ‘lost’ and the building was not considered worthy of designation at that time. We now present ‘new evidence’ to the contrary and keep fingers crossed that a new assessment will need to be completed by Historic England. There have been a couple of recent benchmark listings for theatres / cinemas with fewer qualities to bring to the table. We await their response too.

With both these decisions still to be made, we are absolutely astounded that the Mayor of the West Midlands chooses to announce the ‘signing off’ of Towns Fund money for Dudley when there is so much STILL to be concluded. Perhaps he KNOWS something we don’t..yet ? Are you astounded too ? You decide……….”

The DHDT have detailed in their application many still-existing Art Deco features and notable features within the magnificently-constructed 80-year old building, all of which the Council have previously ignored, doing grave injustice to this fine building which was for many decades the pride of the area. Perhaps you can figure out why the Council has so little interest in providing a high-quality, ready-made entertainment venue to the hard-working people of Dudley and surrounding areas, preferring to make them sit on plastic school bucket-seats on a flat floor in an old hall instead?

Let us hope that English Heritage treats the new listing application with the appropriate respect after their grave mistake in their last contact with Dudley Hippodrome.

The Council’s decision to demolish (their stated intention before the decision) has now gone to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, for “oversight”. Yes, him. It is hard to not laugh, isn’t it? I won’t hold my breath……

In the meantime, you can keep up to date with the ever-unfolding story by following the Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust on their Facebook page here.