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.

Dudley Council celebrates LoveTheatreDay by voting to demolish its only professional theatre

Dudley Hippodrome interior

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.”

You can read the Theatres Trust’s full statement here

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 ??

You decide……….”

I know what I think. How about You?