Reporting the most important unused theatre in the UK
Our Brighton Hippodrome


Press release #7: 15 March 2017
Campaigners welcome council report
The repair and reuse of Brighton Hippodrome presents a major opportunity to revitalise the centre of the Old Town. This is one of the key conclusions of a report adopted by Brighton and Hove City Council's Economic Development and Culture Committee on 9 March 2017.
      Campaigners who have been working for three and a half years to bring the Hippodrome back to life are gratified that the theatre's vital importance is fully recognised in the report.
      The character statement about the Old Town Conservation Area (OTCA) was prepared by independent consultants: The Conservation Studio. It describes in detail the area between East Street, West Street, North Street and the seafront—which defines the layout of the medieval town. It highlights the rich diversity of the area's architectural and historic interest but is critical of the many changes that have taken place in an uncoordinated and piecemeal way. The report argues that this has driven down the area's special quality.
      In particular, the condition of the Hippodrome has a negative effect on the character and appearance of the area. 'Loss of significant historic fabric or economic potential,' says the report, 'would be a threat to the conservation area's special interest and to the surviving evidence of Brighton's development as a seaside resort in the late 19th and 20th century.'
  Historic England added the whole of the conservation area to its 'at risk' register in September 2016. The Hippodrome was already on the register and has been number one on the Theatres Trust's list of Theatre Buildings at Risk (TBAR) for the past four years.
      Brighton Hippodrome CIC, which sponsored the report on behalf of the council, has worked with architects and developers to prepare a scheme for restoration of the historic venue. This involves building above the service yard to overcome what the report describes as the 'negative effect' of its appearance on Ship Street. Plans have also been discussed with neighbouring owners to create a new 'lane' between the Hippodrome and Dukes Lane. The proposals have been broadly welcomed by Historic England and the council.
      Brighton and Hove City Council will now prepare a management plan for the Old Town Conservation Area. This will create a framework to regenerate the city's ancient heart.
      The Old Town Conservation Area Character Statement is available on the council's website.

Previously . . .
Theatres Trust press release: 19 June 2015
Following the purchase of the Freehold of the Brighton Hippodrome by Academy Music Group (AMG) in April 2015, we are pleased to announce that over the next six months (from 18 June to 17 December 2015), AMG will be working with ourselves, The Theatres Trust, Brighton and Hove City Council, Historic England, Our Brighton Hippodrome, Brighton Hippodrome CIC, and the Frank Matcham Society on a jointly commissioned Viability Study to identify a future use for this unique Grade II* former circus variety theatre. A Stakeholder Group has been formed with representatives of all organisations to oversee the Viability Study.
      Council Leader, Warren Morgan said, 'BHCC is pleased to be working with stakeholders on identifying a way forward to secure the future of the Hippodrome. This is a very positive initiative and we are keen to see a use that complements our ambitions for the economic development of this area of the city centre.'
      Mhora Samuel, Director of The Theatres Trust, the National Advisory Public Body for Theatres said, 'We are pleased to be supporting this initiative. The group
  will be working together over the next six months to find a solution that will protect the historical and cultural significance of this Frank Matcham theatre and identify a beneficial viable use.'
      David Fisher, on behalf of Our Brighton Hippodrome and Brighton Hippodrome CIC, said: 'This is the moment we have been working towards for the past 18 months. We are pleased and excited that Academy Music Group is creating this opportunity. However, this is not the end of the line, just the first milestone. We shall now be working hard on the business proposition with our stakeholder partners.'
      Russell Duly, Head of Property, AMG said: 'The Theatres Trust and all other organisations who are involved in this steering committee have our full support to form a collaborative and experienced effort into this study.'
      The Hippodrome is number one on The Theatres Trust's Theatre Buildings at Risk Register and is high on Historic England's Heritage at Risk Register.
Press release #6: 30 November 2014
Campaigners' outrage at council decision
Campaigners wanting to restore Brighton Hippodrome as a theatre are appalled that Brighton and Hove City Council has granted final approval for a scheme that will see the Grade II* listed theatre converted into retail, restaurant and cinema units.
     The implicit council policy for some time has been to oppose and resist restoration of the Hippodrome for live performance. As the owner and operator of some of the city's main performance venues, the council has a clear conflict of interests in making a decision about what it regards as a potential commercial rival. Campaigners say they are complementary.
     By approving the current developer's scheme, the council is ignoring national guidelines about listed building conservation. The council's reason for rejecting the theatre option is that Our Brighton Hippodrome (OBH) does not have the money to carry out urgent repairs to a building for which it has no responsibility.
     Having the money to carry out any work, including necessary and urgent repairs, is not a planning consideration. Approval can be given with no certainty that the building will be saved. This has now happened.
       OBH has produced a viability study and a business plan which show that theatre restoration is not only viable but fundable and sustainable. Importantly, it avoids the wholesale destruction of one of the city's and the country's most important buildings. By the council's own estimate, the proposed conversion will destroy up to 60 per cent of the heritage asset but council heritage officers deem this to be 'less than substantial'.
     Neglect of the building is the responsibility of the owner. For seven years the council has chosen not to issue statutory enforcement notices for repairs and maintenance. Yet it is now relying on the state of the building to justify approval for a wholly inappropriate development.
     OBH will continue its fight to achieve the best outcome for the Hippodrome and is considering an injunction because of the council's compromised position and its handling of the issue.
Press release #5: 18 September 2014
The Theatres Trust will announce the current list of Theatre Buildings at Risk today (Thursday 18 September 2014) at the Theatre Royal in Brighton. The Grade II* listed Brighton Hippodrome is expected to be still number one on the list, as it was last year.
     The venue for the press conference is well chosen. In its announcement the Trust said the event is being held in Brighton 'to highlight the significance of the Grade II* listed Brighton Hippodrome under threat from development proposals which would prevent it from being used as a theatre in the future'.
     Brighton and Hove City Council has voted to approve a planning application for an eight-screen cinema with four restaurants as the 'only and final chance to save the building'. The case for restoration as a theatre has not been given a fair chance to come forward.
       A decision is pending on whether the Secretary of State will call in the planning application, taking it out of the hands of the council. Our Brighton Hippodrome has been campaigning for the opportunity to prove the case for theatre restoration. Its viability study demonstrates that theatre is not only viable but is likely to produce significantly more revenue than a cinema at this site. A call-in by Eric Pickles and the appointment of a planning inspector will allow the theatre project to be considered on equal terms with the retail/cinema scheme.
     The potential loss of the most important unused theatre in the country is an outcome that must be avoided.
Press release #4: 15 September 2014
Brighton Hippodrome's long community value not 'recent'
Brighton & Hove City Council has rejected a nomination for the Brighton Hippodrome in Middle Street to be listed as an asset of community value (ACV). Our Brighton Hippodrome (OBH), which is campaigning for the chance to restore the Hippodrome as a theatre, made the nomination because throughout almost the whole of its long 117-year history the building has served the local community.
     The Localism Act 2011 states that land or a building is of community value if, in the opinion of the local authority, it has 'furthered the social wellbeing or interests of the local community' in the recent past and 'it is realistic to think that there is a time in the next five years' when it could do so.
     Unfortunately, the Act does not define 'the recent past', leaving it entirely to the local authority's arbitrary opinion.
     The city council agreed that the Hippodrome did promote the social interests and wellbeing of the local community from its opening as a skating rink in 1897 until it closed as a bingo hall in 2006 and was therefore eligible for listing.
  However, the council decided that because the building has not been in use for the past seven years while efforts were being made to arrange its restoration as a music venue, it had not served the community 'in the recent past'. Therefore, it was not necessary even to consider whether it might do so in the future.
     The principal reason for the failure of the plans to create a music venue was not a failure to 'find funding', as the council implies in its decision, but the council's own opposition in principle to any application for late-night licensing, which alone caused the leaseholder to withdraw from further development.
     Our Brighton Hippodrome will be raising the issue of the lack of a definition of 'recent past' in the Act with the Department of Communities and Local Government, as it allows local authorities to tailor their decision-making to suit interests other than those of either the nominated asset or the community.
Press release #3: 4 August 2014
Campaigners working to save the Brighton Hippodrome for restoration as a live performance venue have asked Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) to list the site as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), in recognition of its long contribution to the social wellbeing and interests of the local community.
     After a brief initial period as an ice skating rink, the Hippodrome was the main venue for live entertainment for the citizens of Brighton and Hove and the surrounding area for well over 60 years. It then remained a gathering place as a popular bingo hall for over 40 more years.
     Many present and former residents have vivid and happy memories of attending shows at the Hippodrome—memories that are treasured to this day. Sadly the Hippodrome closed in 2007 and, despite efforts by the Academy Music Group (AMG) to restore it as a music venue, it has been out of use for the past seven years.
     A decision must be made by the council within eight weeks. Our Brighton Hippodrome (OBH) submitted a nomination on 9 July 2014. After the council 'misplaced' the nomination for three weeks, the process is now on track for a decision by 3 September.
     Listing as an ACV may depend on how the City Council chooses to interpret the regulations, which say the land should have contributed to community wellbeing in 'the recent past', a term that is not defined in the Localism Act 2011. OBH thinks it would be churlish to dismiss 110 years of community value on the basis of the past seven years.
       The Act also says a nominated site should be listed if 'it is realistic to think that there is a time in the next five years when [it] would further . . . the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community'. OBH can demonstrate that case but BHCC officers continue to deny that theatre restoration is viable. Listing imposes a six-month moratorium on any sale or development of the site, to allow time for development of a plan for the future by a community-based group. There is no obligation for the owner to sell to the group or to anyone.
     The council must tell the owner about the nomination. If the owner objects, an internal review must be held by the local authority. In this case the owner is still the leaseholder, Academy Music Group, which tried to save the building, and not the freeholder or developer, who want to convert the Grade II* listed theatre building into an eight-screen cinema and four-unit food court.
     Local authorities must maintain and publish a list of properties that are Assets of Community Value 'as soon as practicable' and a separate list of sites nominated but rejected for listing. Brighton & Hove has not done this, although there are already two ACVs in the city—Saltdean Lido and the Rose Hill Tavern.
     Any relevant site can be an ACV: Manchester United's Old Trafford ground is one.
Press release #2: 12 July 2014
Recommendation to approve Hippodrome plan is badly flawed
The Theatres Trust and Our Brighton Hippodrome (OBH) have asked the Secretary of State to call in a major planning application, to take it out of the compromised hands of the City Council. Members of the Brighton & Hove City Council planning committee are being advised to grant a planning application that would convert the Hippodrome theatre into an eight-screen cinema and four restaurants, destroying much of this Grade II* building irreversibly. The committee meets on Wednesday 16 July.
      The Hippodrome is of national importance and not just local interest. The council is in an untenable position, having to determine a planning application for a building it mistakenly sees as a potential rival for its own loss-making cultural and entertainment venue.
      A press conference will be held to give full details of these issues at 11:00 am on Monday 14 July at the Old Courtroom, Church Street Brighton.
      The council chose to ignore expert advice that theatre restoration is viable. The planning officer's report is seriously flawed as it fails to present the case for theatre restoration adequately and fairly. It also assumes, with little visible evidence, that the cinema proposal is bound to succeed.
      The developer submitted a last-minute Viability Study to prove that its plans for a cinema were the only way to save the building. The council asked the District Valuation Office (DVO) to appraise the argument against theatre but seems to have forgotten to ask whether the cinema/restaurant proposal stacks up.
      OBH submitted a detailed analysis of the Viability Study itemising all the many simple errors of fact, inconsistencies and misunderstandings of the theatre and cinema business (see note 1). This was deliberately withheld from the District Valuer on the specious grounds that it was from a local community/pressure group and not a professional or specialist body (see note 2).
      So of course the DVO, having nothing else to go on but factually incorrect assumptions, agreed with the developer that theatre is not viable. So did the planning officer's 57-page report, on which members are expected to decide.
        Our Brighton Hippodrome (OBH) is preparing a workable plan for theatre restoration with the unstinting support of the Theatres Trust, which has roundly condemned the cinema proposal (see note 3). The Hippodrome would have almost twice the seating capacity of any other theatre in the city and would uniquely be able to stage big West End musicals in its uniquely flexible space. It would help to make the city the regional hub for culture and entertainment to which the council's city plan aspires, specifically mentioning the Hippodrome as part of that ambition.
      But the planners continue to dismiss this possibility.
      The developers were told by the council's planning department nearly a year ago that, although 'return to theatre use would be the default preferred option . . . this is dismissed on the basis that Brighton & Hove and surrounding towns are already well-stocked in terms of theatre venues.' A foregone conclusion, therefore.
      The planning report says there is no demand for another theatre.
• The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), the country's largest theatre operator, says it wants to run the Hippodrome.
• Over 11,400 people have signed the OBH petition in favour of a theatre.
No demand there. Right?
      So why has the council been arguing against the theatre option for so long? OBH believes it is because the council is protecting its own interests in the subsidised Concert Hall at the Dome. As both are of similar seating capacity, they are seen by the council as competitive, even though the Hippodrome is a theatre and the Concert Hall is, well, a concert hall. An application for money to refurbish the Dome and Royal Pavilion Estate, pending while the Hippodrome application was being processed, has been rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
      Meanwhile, OBH has submitted a nomination to Brighton & Hove City Council for the Hippodrome to be listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), to protect the interests of the city's community in this irreplaceable heritage asset.
Press release #1: 19 February 2014
Cinema plans will destroy that possibility forever
A campaign for one of the finest theatres in the country to be returned to its former glory is now under way in Brighton. The Hippodrome in Middle Street, Brighton opened as an ice skating rink in 1897 but was converted into a circus in 1901 and then a variety theatre in 1902 by Frank Matcham, the greatest theatre architect of the era. Most of his original interior is still intact. It is nationally unique in being suitable for any type of performance from large-scale musical theatre productions, opera and ballet to circus-roundhouse and most styles in between.
      A planning application is currently before Brighton & Hove City Council to convert the Hippodrome into an eight-screen cinema and three restaurants. The Our Brighton Hippodrome campaigners point out that the plans involve demolishing the stage, the fly tower, all the backstage area, the stalls and orchestra pit. Without these the building ceases to be a theatre. It was given a Grade II* listed status by English Heritage in 1985 because of its unique architectural and historical quality, specifically as a theatre.
      Moreover, the plans call for a new floor to be added at the balcony level in order to install cinema auditoria beneath. This would destroy the crucial sense of space and volume in Matcham's design.
      Both English Heritage and the Theatres Trust, which have to be consulted about plans to alter the building, say that any changes must be reversible. Clearly that is not possible if most of the theatre elements of the building are removed.
      If this redevelopment plan goes through, the Hippodrome will never again be a living theatre.
        Its heyday as a theatre ended in 1965 after playing host to all the greatest stars, right up to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. It was used as a bingo hall until 1987 but has been dark since then. The leaseholder, Academy Music Group, had been working on plans since 2007 to develop the building as a music venue. The cinema proposal came out of the blue late in 2013, without warning.
      The Our Brighton Hippodrome campaign is working with local and national support to produce an alternative business plan based on retaining the building as a major touring theatre with other spaces for commercial, corporate and community use.

Notes for editors:
1. An eight-screen cinema at the Hippodrome would be in direct competition with the long-established eight-screen Odeon in the next street, the eight-screen Cineworld at Brighton Marina, the venerable Duke of York's Cinema (the country's oldest, dating from 1910) and the two-screen Duke's @ Komedia, which opened in December 2012.
2. Some of the stars who appeared at the Hippodrome between 1902 and 1965: Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Gracie Fields, Max Miller, the Crazy Gang, Laurence Olivier, Arthur Askey, Tony Hancock, Dickie Henderson, Roy Orbison, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones.
3. The new Brighton & Hove City Plan, which comes into effect this year with effect until 2030, identifies the Hippodrome as a part of the 'existing cultural infrastructure' that should be 'protected and enhanced . . . to contribute to the city's unique tourism offer' (paragraph 4.54).
4. The planning applications are on the Brighton& Hove City Council website: here and here.
5. The developer's presentation about the proposal can be seen at here.

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