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John Earl's Article in the September 2013 Members Newsletter

The news about Brighton Hippodrome at the beginning of September was extremely depressing. There appears to be no consent application or other public papers at present on which to comment, but the broad pattern of events is fairly well known.

The once promising proposal for a popular music venue died the death, due to opposition by the police and the licensing authority, this following six years of discussion and heavy investment by the owners in skilled professional services. The proposal that came forward to replace it was for conversion to a multiscreen complex with no fewer than eight (yes, eight) screens packed into that superb Grade II* Matcham interior. You don't need much imagination to see that, however the feat was achieved, the great tent-like (former circus} volume would be hopelessly compromised.

The scheme will, of course, be represented as 'reversible' and, indeed, anything is theoretically reversible if you have loads of money and an improbable willingness to abandon a highly profitable use that need never have invaded the site. In fact, once the interior has been subjected to such massive interference, the rare qualities that marked it out for Grade II* status will soon be forgotten. The likelihood of a huge investment being made to return it to theatrical, or any other amenable non-destructive use, will be vanishingly remote.

I have heard it argued that the building is now in such deteriorated condition that the choice is between an architecturally damaging project or total loss. What I say to this is that the Hippodrome was not in serious disrepair when I examined it in 2007. Since then the City Council, if it had been worried at subsequent deterioration, had statutory power to intervene and stop the rot. It did not.

The Hippodrome's grading puts it in the top six percent of all listed buildings in England. During its idle years no effort seems to have been made to market it or to find alternative uses other than the present multiscreen proposal. English Heritage must surely now insist on the building receiving the urgent care and attention that are no more than its due.

A last dismal thought. In the 1960s, when conservation was not a great matter of public concern, hardly any theatres (and certainly not the Hippodrome) were listed buildings and there was no powerful body like English Heritage to give a lead, Brighton corporation gave serious consideration to acquiring the Hippodrome in order to prevent its demolition. The procedure was aborted only when Mecca stepped in and purchased the building for bingo, a use which, incidentally, caused hardly any architectural damage. This was a remarkably early time for any authority to be considering preserving a theatre by acquisition. How times have changed!


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