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Dudley redevelopment plan under threat after Hippodrome reprieve
6:00pm Tuesday 6th August 2013 in News
MASSIVE redevelopment plans are under threat after a dramatic twist in the battle to save a landmark Dudley theatre.
The former Hippodrome on Castle Hill seemed certain to be bulldozed after an application for its demolition was put before a meeting of Dudley's development control committee on Monday (August 5).
However planners decided to defer a decision to allow more consultation, sparking an astonishing outburst from Dudley Zoo boss Peter Suddock about the future of their £3m plan for a new visitor centre on the site called the Trilobite.
Mr Suddock, chief executive at Dudley Zoological Gardens (DZG), said: "We see this as a wonderful opportunity to develop a sad and forgotten site with a futuristic building.
"However, while we are keen to develop this unloved site for the benefit of the borough, through education and much-needed apprenticeships, we have a timescale to honour.
"Thus while we see the demolition and subsequent development of the Hippodrome Theatre/Gala Bingo Hall site as an opportunity to bring major investment to the borough, we cannot indefinitely await decision and will consider pursuing alternative projects to the benefit of the zoological gardens.
“Unused for more than half a century as a theatre by the local population, it now seems that the Hippodrome Theatre/Gala Bingo Hall will suffer the same fate as Dudley town centre, lapsing into progressive decline."
The Hippodrome building, which became a bingo hall in the 1980s and has been vacant for the past four years, got an eleventh-hour reprieve after councillors were told English Heritage had concerns about the Trilobite plan.
In a letter of objection English Heritage described the Trilobite as an aspiration with no confirmed funding which does not secure the site's future.
The letter said: "It appears that to rush through plans for demolition with no firm plans for redevelopment would be unduly expeditious and contrary to both local and national planning guidance."
Committee member cllr Tim Wright led calls to put off leveling the landmark, which is sited within a conservation area.
He said: "We need to make sure every line of discussion has been explored before we consent to demolition of the building."
After a debate committee members voted to reject a planning officers' recommendation to grant consent for demolition in a conservation area.
They then opted for another vote and unanimously decided to defer a decision, which prompted celebrations from protestors who have collected 30,000 names on a petition calling for the Hippodrome to be saved and say the Trilobite looks like a toaster.
Campaigner and Black Country historian Dr Paul Collins said: "I'm absolutely delighted, members had the common sense to listen to the people and realise the importance of the building."
Dudley Council's cabinet member for regeneration, Cllr Judy Foster, refused to comment on whether the zoo's threat to pull out of the Hippodrome redevelopment put the council's plans for the area into crisis.
She said the planning process was on-going and she was dealing with it "one step at a time".
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