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Ambitious plan for driverless vehicles hub in Dudley

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Dudley could become a national pioneer in developing driverless vehicles as part of exciting £9 million plans to develop the site of the derelict former Hippodrome, it has been revealed.

Council bosses are in discussions with a consortium of seven organisations about making the town a “key national centre” for the development of the ground-breaking new technology.

It could also see tourist attractions including Dudley Zoo, the Black Country Living Museum and Dudley Canal Trust linked together for the first time ever using driverless vehicles.

Dudley Council’s ruling cabinet will be asked to approve a recommendation to explore the proposals further at a meeting on December 6.

It will also be asked to formally rule out a separate bid from Dudley Hippodrome Community Group, which had submitted plans to reopen the site as a theatre.

The report ahead of the meeting says the submission made by the group, despite being given an equal chance to bid alongside the consortium, fell short of proving a valid business case for the development of a theatre.

Officers said it did not outline how funding for the £12m refurbishment of the theatre would be met, or address other factors in terms of potential audiences and the impact of competition in the region.

Councillor Keiran Casey, cabinet member for regeneration and enterprise, said:

The decision over what to do with the former Hippodrome site has been a difficult one, and this comes following the previous administration’s decision to take back the lease from the Friends group.
Following this decision, the council went out for expressions of interest and received two proposals, one from the Friends group and one from the Dudley Driverless Vehicles Consortium.
We have looked extremely carefully at both proposals to make sure we can make an informed decision.
The preferred option at this stage is to look at working with the Dudley Driverless Vehicles Consortium on developing their proposals.
They offer an exciting and ambitious plan for the site, focusing on innovation, engineering and the jobs of the future.
The decision will be based on what is best for the people of the borough and it is vitally important that Dudley is a leader in these new technologies.
We need to do everything we can to ensure that we adapt our local economy to meet the demands of the future, so that local people have the skills to compete in the modern economy.
That is something that, if successful, will move us closer to achieving.”

The building, which was built in 1938, has not been used as a Hippodrome since 1964 and has more recently been home to a bingo hall.

The consortium behind the preferred plans include Dudley College, Black Country Living Museum, Dudley Canal and Tunnels Trust, Dudley Zoological Gardens, Aurigo, the University of Warwick and Westfield Technology Group.

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