A LAST-gasp bid to save a historic theatre has been launched.

The Brighton Hippodrome is set to be turned into an eight-screen cinema and restaurant complex.

But campaigners have called on councillors to defer a decision on the former variety theatre for six months.

The Our Brighton Hippodrome group has also appealed to Government minister Eric Pickles to ‘call the decision in’ saying the venue is of national importance.

The campaigners want to see an alternative plan for a 1,500-seat theatre instead.

They argue a new venue would generate £1 million revenue a year – more than a cinema – and could be up and running within two or three years with a £15 million makeover.

The plan has the backing of the Ambassador Theatre Group, which runs the Theatre Royal, and said the two venues could operate “happily in harmony”.

The group said a renovated Hippodrome “meets their needs” and urged the council to give “serious consideration” to its revival as a live performance venue.

The city’s planning committee is being advised to grant a scheme submitted by Indigo Planning on behalf of Alaska Property Developments which would see the theatre in Middle Street become a Vue cinema with four restaurants.

But campaign leaders, including cinema expert David Fisher, Theatres Trust architect trustee Tim Foster and former councillor Tony Jaffe, said the report was misleading.

They queried figures claiming a theatre would not be viable and would lose £250,000 a year.

Planning documents suggest changes to the interior of the building would be “reversible”.

But campaigners say changes would be “irretrievable” and end the possibility of the theatre being used as a live performance venue. A petition to retain the Hippodrome as a live performance venue has attracted more than 12,000 signatures with support from actors Alan Ayckbourn, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Penelope Keith.

Mr Fisher, a former editor of Screen Magazine and a Government advisor on cinema, said the proposed restaurants were not needed when there were already 72 restaurants, 19 pubs and 13 cafés within a short walk of the Hippodrome.

He said cinema audiences were on the decline and a new complex would “cannibalise” audiences at the Odeon and Cineworld.

Mr Foster said the theatre was the most important at-risk theatre in the country and its unique design, originally a circus, made it a versatile venue able to host a variety of shows.

The planning committee will meet tomorrow at 2pm at Hove Town Hall to discuss the plans.