CONTROVERSIAL plans to transform a historic theatre are being recommended before they go before council chiefs.

Brighton and Hove City Councillors are being advised to pass through plans to convert the grade II listed Hippodrome into an eight screen cinema with cafes and restaurants.

The recommendation comes despite an 8,300 signature petition calling for the site to be retained as a live performance venue.

The proposals have split opinion, with The Theatres Trust, The Victorian Society, the Brighton Society, the Frank Matcham Society and the Ambassador Theatre Group all recording their objections to the plans, arguing the changes will rob the building of special interest.

But English Heritage, Hove Civic Society and the Regency Society have all supported the application, claiming it is the last chance to save a building which has stood unused for the past seven years.

The council has also received 130 letters of objection from residents and 26 letters of support.

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has also objected to the plans over concerns of access to the building during a fire.

The Hippodrome was built as an indoor ice rink in 1896/97 before being converted to a circus by theatre designer Frank Matcham, who also designed the London Hippodrome, London Coliseum, and London Palladium.

At the turn of the 20th century it began its life as a theatre and was also used as a live music venue and television studio before being operated as a bingo hall from 1965 to 2007.

The new plans have been drawn up by London-based Indigo Planning on behalf of Kuig Property Investments.

Council officers claim that the revival of the venue as a theatre would not be “commercially viable”, based on the performance of the similarly-sized Brighton Dome, which “only operates with the assistance of a council subsidy.” It estimates that to transform the Hippodrome into a 1500-seater live venue would cost £21 million and produce an estimated annual trading loss of almost £250,000.

The report concludes: “The Grade II Brighton Hippodrome and adjacent Hippodrome House are in a poor and deteriorating state of repair, such that they have been identified as Buildings at Risk on both the English Heritage and council registers.

“It has been satisfactorily demonstrated that the proposed development to part-demolish, extend and convert the buildings to form a cinema complex with associated restaurants represents the optimum viable use of the buildings.”

Councillors will vote on the proposal at a planning committee scheduled for Wednesday.