Brighton Hippodrome. Picture: Sarah Booker-LewisBrighton Hippodrome. Picture: Sarah Booker-Lewis
Brighton Hippodrome. Picture: Sarah Booker-Lewis

Cheers fill Hove Town Hall chamber as Councillors approve historic Hippodrome restoration and expansion plans

Cheers filled the chamber of Hove Town Hall as councillors unanimously backed plans to restore and extend the historic Hippodrome in Brighton.

The £20 million scheme won the unanimous approval of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee this afternoon (Wednesday 3 April).

Members were told that the proposals by local family firm Matsim were the “best option” for the grade II* listed building in Middle Street.

The committee was “minded to grant” planning permission subject to a legal agreement – known as a section 106 agreement – requiring Matsim to pay £70,000 towards local employment and training.

Since buying the building three years ago, Matsim has sunk £5 million into its restoration, making the auditorium roof watertight and restoring the ornate plaster work.

Matsim’s owners, the Lambor family, want to restore, renovate and refurbish the theatre, with a potential capacity of 1,350, and create a “multi-format performance space” with some extensions on the site.

The new structures would include a building fronting Ship Street, up to seven storeys high, to contain an “aparthotel”. The project would also add a restaurant or café with a rooftop bar and terrace and a ground-floor shop.

The old fly tower would become additional rehearsal performance and space and the neighbouring Hippodrome House would become a bar and members’ club with an outside terrace and aparthotel rooms.

At the meeting today, councillors were told that the Hippodrome had been empty since 2006, with the frontage blighted by graffiti and the inside affected by water coming in, damaging the plasterwork.

Tom Clarke, The Theatres Trust’s national planning adviser, objected to the scheme, saying that the trust supported it in principle but had concerns.

It was worried that the scheme would “not deliver” and had concerns about limited space for loading, performers’ merchandising and toilets.

He said that the trust agreed with the concerns of Historic England and the council’s heritage team about the loss of the Palm Court interior.

But Matsim director Simon Lambor said that there were enough toilets and the Palm Court area was badly damaged although the pillars would be reused if possible.

Support came from Green councillor Chloë Goldsmith, who represents Regency, the ward in which the Hippodrome is located.

She said: “The proposals being put forward by Matsim today would revitalise the building and protect its heritage while also putting it in a position where it can be financially viable well into the future and be a huge asset to the area and the city’s economy overall.

“The conversations I’ve personally had with residents have been very positive about the idea of the Hippodrome being redeveloped.”

After the meeting, Councillor Goldsmith said: “I’m incredibly pleased to see this application finally receive approval from councillors.

“Brighton Hippodrome has been left unused for far too long so it’s fantastic that work can now begin on restoring it to its former glory and protecting it as a vital heritage asset in our city.

“I welcome the much-needed rejuvenation of this area of the city centre and look forward to attending events at the Hippodrome when it finally opens.”

Mr Lambor, 34, told the Planning Committee that the building was in a poor condition and the auditorium ceiling would have been lost had Matsim not taken action.

He said: “From the very first day of our ownership, we have committed our funds to saving the building. We’ve invested over £5 million putting a new roof on it and saving the plaster ceiling.”

And he said that the building had always been a music hall or variety or live entertainment space and that the plans would bring it back into use as a performance venue.

Mr Lambor criticised the intervention of the Theatres Trust, saying that the Hippodrome had never been a “lyric theatre” and, as such, was outside the remit of the trust.

After the vote, Mr Lambor said: “I’m feeling jubilant and relieved and we’re eager to get on. It’s been 600 days (since the plans were submitted) – a long slog. It’s taken its toll on the family but there’s great relief we’re able to get on.”

Conservative councillor Carol Theobald said: “The Hippodrome is probably the only circular circus-type auditorium in the country now so it is unique.

“I remember seeing the Beatles there. That was quite something although you couldn’t hear them much over the screaming.

“Hopefully, I think there should be a blue plaque for the Beatles and Max Miller who was a wonderful entertainer.”

Labour councillor Paul Nann joked that he had “seen some beetles” during the committee’s visit.

Another Labour councillor, Julie Cattell, said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore this building and give the city a flexible entertainment space. We need somewhere between the Brighton Centre and the Green Door Store for bands on the up.

“It’s a very brave move by the developers to do this. It’s also been a labour of love.”

Brighton and Hove Independent councillor Mark Earthey said: “It’s a miracle what they’re doing and I thoroughly compliment the developers for taking it on.

“We all saw – and if this development doesn’t go ahead the building’s going to simply fall down.”

The committee voted unanimously in favour of the scheme although Labour councillor Birgit Miller excused herself from the debate and vote because she has had some involvement with the Save the Hippodrome campaign group.

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