PLANS to turn a Victorian Theatre into bars and restaurants would cause “irreversible physical and operational harm” a campaign group has claimed.

Brighton Hippodrome CIC (community interest company) claim that plans to convert the auditorium into a food hall would mean the city could lose an “opportunity to bring its once finest theatre back to life”.

However, family-run company Matsim Properties, which bought historic building last year, said it plans to make the venue suitable to host music, comedy and drama, while offering food and drink to sustain its running.

The Argus: The Brighton HippodromeThe Brighton Hippodrome

Gavin Henderson, chairman of Brighton Hippodrome CIC, said: “By focusing on food and drink, the building would be entering a market of around 70 other such establishments in the Old Town area alone.

“Performances would be limited mainly to stand-up comedy, putting the Hippodrome in head-to-head competition for audiences with The Dome, The Old Market, Komedia and other comedy clubs and smaller music venues across the city.

“This would add little or nothing new to the city’s entertainment offering. A large-scale theatre would be unique.

“Such a magnet has been desperately needed for the region’s cultural infrastructure, not least for the Brighton Festival, for many years”

The Hippodrome in Middle Street is among 31 venues the Theatres Trust has named on a list of places at significant or immediate risk of being lost.

Matsim Properties has invested more than £1 million into slowing the building’s decline and is looking at investing a further £10 million into the second stage of its redevelopment.

A spokesman said the most important aspect of the regeneration is that it “should ensure that the venue was available for all to appreciate”.

He said: “It is quite clear that the venue still has a use for music, comedy, drama and even more modern forms of entertainment.

“Food and beverage helps to sustain all entertainment venues and it would be foolish not to include some element of this offering.

“ The CIC group with the Theatres Trust suggest that food offerings in the Auditorium will detract from the live entertainment offering which we have taken onboard.

“However, to limit this venue to purely theatre production will by definition limit its availability to only those that wish to view theatre performances.”

The site fell into a state of disrepair in recent years and has been unused since 2007.

Restoration of the auditorium took a major step forward when the owners replaced the Grade II listed building's rotting roof with a new structure in October.

Steelwork on the original roof had rusted through and any hope of recovering it would have caused "excessive vibration and undoubtedly brought down further if not all of the decorative ceiling", Matsim said.

The intricately designed auditorium has hosted artists such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

It was built as an ice rink in 1897 and has been used as a circus and variety theatre as well as a music venue during its 123-year history.

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