First steps in battle to save the Hippodrome
CAMPAIGNERS hope that an expert study into how Derby's former Hippodrome theatre might be brought back into use could help secure the future of the badly damaged building.
City architects' firm Lathams has been appointed by the Hippodrome Restoration Trust to carry out an options appraisal on the Grade Two-listed building.
The trust says that if the findings of the study are positive then it will work to acquire the building.
Its chairman, Joan Travis, said: "It is good to be taking a positive step towards securing the future of the building so I'm really pleased that architects have been appointed.
"Funding bodies recognise independent studies like this and see them as a necessary step before they give funding so it is essential this work is done for the city."
The building, owned by businessman Christopher Anthony, was left partially demolished in 2008 when work ordered by him caused major damage.
The Hippodrome Restoration Trust has been putting pressure on Derby City Council to use its powers to compulsorily purchase the building from Mr Anthony.
But the authority – already facing deep budgetary pressures – is reluctant to buy a building with no viable future, so the trust has been pushing to get a professional study carried out.
The research will look at what is needed in the Green Lane area of the city, where the building is situated, what it could be used for and potential costs.
Lathams is working with heritage tourism consultants to carry out the research.
Stuart Hodgkinson, from Lathams, said: "We will find out what there is a perceivable need for – such as commercial offices, theatre or housing – in that particular area.
"We then see if we can establish what might go into the building, looking at the condition of it and how much that might cost.
"There is no 'do nothing' option because this is a listed building, so there is a duty of protection."
Following that initial phase, a detailed business plan will be put together.
The trust would then use that information to attempt to get funding guarantees from various bodies which it could use to prove to the council that funds were in place to buy the Hippodrome from the authority – should it use its powers to compulsorily-purchase the building from Mr Anthony.
The majority of the £10,000 costs of the research are expected to be covered by the Architectural Heritage Fund. It puts money towards listed buildings or those in conservation areas and can pay up to £7,500 towards the cost of the study.
The Hippodrome Restoration Trust hopes the remainder of the costs will be covered by the council.
But the authority's chief legal officer, Stuart Leslie, said councillors would have to agree to any contribution to the options appraisal.
He added that commitment had not yet been given because the council had been led to believe that the Architectural Heritage Fund's money was conditional on the authority giving a guarantee that it would buy the building.
Mr Leslie said: "We have always said we cannot commit ourselves to that. The only caveat would be if someone came forward and gave an unconditional commitment to take that building immediately off us and to compensate us for any compensation paid to the owner and meet our administrative costs of pushing through the compulsory purchase order."
Ian Rice, project development officer at the heritage fund, said it would expect the council to give a commitment to helping acquire the building from its private owner.
He said that could be conditional on the building being sold on immediately.
He added: "Of course we wouldn't expect the council to buy the building if there is no viable future. That is what this study is about."
Mr Anthony previously said he would be willing to sell the building, which was said in court last year to only be worth around £25,000 in its current state. He has now told the Derby Telegraph he no longer has "much to do with it".
He suffered financial difficulties and the council said its discussions regarding the Hippodrome were now taking place with the finance company with which Mr Anthony took out a mortgage on the building.
The council has already spent about £130,000 on legal costs and emergency repairs to the Hippodrome.
It has recouped only a fraction of that, believed to be about £10,000, through a voluntary agreement that was put in place between Mr Anthony and his creditors to avoid bankruptcy.
The council's expenditure is set to rise further as Mr Leslie said more repairs were needed to the building following a recent fire.
He said: "Loose slates on the roof need removing along with a dormer window but we have not yet got a price for those works."
Lathams is starting the options appraisal work immediately and expects the broad research to be completed in February, with detailed business plan work following that.