A DRIVERLESS vehicle group has been given an extra nine months to develop its plans to turn the Dudley Hippodrome site into a test track.

The Dudley Driverless Vehicle Consortium has until September to finalise their plans to redevelop the Castle Hill site, which houses the art-deco theatre, after Dudley Council's cabinet granted the extension.

The group, which is made up of Dudley College, Black Country Living Museum, Dudley Canal and Tunnels Trust, Dudley Zoological Gardens, Aurigo, the University of Warwick and Westfield Technology Group, aim to create a test track and centre for new technology.

The decision to extend the group's time to develop their plans proved to be a controversial one at the cabinet meeting on January 6.

Opposition leader Cllr Qada Zada said he was "troubled" by the extension and feared the Consortium was being treated more favourably by the council.

He said: "I feel that this report is shrouded in a veil of secrecy that I would like us to unravel."

Cllr Zada added that granting an extension without seeing what work has already been done over the past 12 months was "treating one group more favourably than another."

His comments were greeted with applause by campaigners in the public gallery who want to see the theatre restored and reopened as an entertainment venue and community space.

It was under Cllr Zada's leadership of the then Labour-controlled authority that the Consortium was given 12 months to develop their plans in December 2018.

The meeting heard how the council has yet to see any plans from the Consortium and how Dudley Council pays £30,000 a year to secure the Hippodrome building.

Current leader of the council, Cllr Patrick Harley, denied there was any unfair treatment involved and said the process was a "level playing field".

He acknowledged more detail for the plans were needed, adding: "I want a report seeing what progress the Consortium have made to date. If in a few months this is not sufficient I will revisit this.

"In plain terms get your finger out and really deliver."

Campaigners from the Friends of Dudley Hippodrome who attended the meeting were sceptical of the extension.

Paul Winchurch said: "In nine months time they will move the goal posts again. It's not going to provide the regeneration they think it is."