A GRADE-II listed theatre which has stood empty for more than 20 years is set to be sold at auction, ausing new concerns for a group campaigning to save it.

Burnley Empire Theatre has been the subject of a high-profile campaign over the last three years, with the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust (BETT) founded to protect the heritage venue.

Now campaigners from the trust have fresh concerns over the sale of the building.

The Trust previously campaigned to prevent the building going to auction in 2016, when it was withdrawn from sale at the 11th hour.

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Trust acting chairman Sophie Gibson said the news came as no surprise.

She added: "The worst case scenario now is that a buyer makes a blind purchase which has happened in the past and then the buyer is incapable of covering the inherited costs from the local council, is incapable of the listed buildings restoration costs and subsequently the building is left vacant once again, unattended, unused, unsafe for years and back in the ownership of the Duchy of Lancaster, with Burnley Council once again liable for public safety."

Cllr Shah Hussain, whose ward the historic theatre is in, said he was glad something could happen with the building.

Cllr Hussain added: “It’s a hazard and an eyesore currently, so it’s a case of whether it can be renovated or brought back.

“It absolutely is part of local heritage. There are not many buildings like that in the UK.

“If it’s a listed building, it’s recognised as culturally important, so the Duchy have a responsibility when they choose to put it up for auction.

"Let’s see what happens – at least there’s movement and let’s hope for the better outcome for the building – I hope it’s restored to its former glory.”

The news of the auction is not the first setback for the future of the theatre, coming just two weeks after a fire was started inside the building.

Ms Gibson added: "We welcome an owner who we can work with to give the venue a future and who understands the complexities of the restoration project.

“The news of auction has almost directly followed the shocking news of the recent arson attack which indeed, re-highlights that the future of the building must be dealt with as soon as possible since continuing to do nothing continues to endure risks.”

Built in 1894, The Empire Theatre is one of the few Victorian theatres to survive in its original form. It has been vacant since 1995 and has since fallen into a state of disrepair.

As the theatre’s legal ownership could not be established, ownership defaulted to the Crown, with the listed building becoming property of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Since 2015, campaigners have worked alongside the National Trust and Theatres Trust to call for the venue to be restored.