Former Birmingham Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture Martin Mullaney argues against council proposals for the city’s baths.
You’ve most likely read the news reports by our Labour-run Birmingham City Council of their intention to close nine leisure centres and build six new ones at a cost of £36 million to the Council taxpayer. The plan is wrong on a number of levels and I do hope that in the coming months, opposition politicians tear into it.
The plan is wrong on the following points:
1) It is closing and demolishing the last few remaining pre-1945 swimming pools left in Birmingham. When you have a document using the terms ‘old and tired buildings’ to justify closure, you know the Birmingham mind-set of the 1960s, where old was bad, is back in control
2) It is demolishing perfectly good buildings that just need refurbishment
3) It is in some instances moving pools located in the heart of communities, to new locations more than two miles away.
4) It puts to bed the lie used to justify the abandonment of the Heritage Lottery bid for Moseley Road baths, that the Council simply has no spare money for capital projects – the council is spending £36 million on these new pools,
So let’s go through these four points one by one.
1) The plan is anti-heritage
The mindset in Birmingham City Council in the 1980s and 1990s was that any pre-1945 swimming pools were bad and needed closing – Nechells, Saltley, Stirchley, Monument Road, Kings Heath – all closed by the then Labour administration. The last of the few pre-1945 swimming pools left in Birmingham will now be closed under this plan: Moseley Road, Northfield, Tiverton Road, Erdington.
Moseley Road baths – these are not only an important community asset in Balsall Heath, they are also a swimming pool of national importance. They are the only completely intact Edwardian public swimming baths in Britain. So important are they, that they are statutory listed grade II*; less than 10% of statutory buildings in Britain have this listing of grade II*.
Under these plans, Moseley Road baths will close on 1st September 2015. After that they will most likely go the way of Stirchley baths and allowed to gradually collapse, suffering from repeated arson attacks.
The cost of fully restoring the building – including the library next door – is estimated to cost at a maximum of £21 million. The plan under the previous administration, following advice from the Heritage Lottery Fund, was to fund its restoration in phases over, say, a twenty year period. Phase 1, costing £8 million (£3 million from the council, £5 million from the HLF) would have started in 2015. This would have involved putting a new roof on the building, and removing and replacing any rotten materials. This would have made the building water tight, kept pool 2 operational for the next 25 years and pool 1 would have been boarded over for community use.
The HLF application for phase 1 was completed in December 2012 and just needed popping in the post. Yet, the Labour administration had second thoughts and abandoned this HLF bid, claiming they couldn’t afford £3 million from the 2015 budget.
Northfield pool – a perfectly good 1937 neo-Georgian swimming pool, smack bang in the heart of Northfield town. There are no structural problems with the building and indeed could quite happily operate for another 25 years. This pool will close on 1st April 2017 and be rebuilt over two miles away on the former MG Rover Longbridge site.
Erdington pool – a 1920s swimming pool. The building requires a maximum of £500,000 spending on it to resolve a number of structure issues and improve it facilities. After that it would be good for another 25 years. It will close 1st April 2017, with a new facility built elsewhere in Erdington
Tiverton Road – a pleasant Edwardian pool in Selly Oak. The future of this pool was always going to hang in balance when the new 50 metre pool was built by Birmingham University. However, the view of the previous administration was a ‘wait and see what happens’ approach. Although there was always talk of the public being allowed access to the Birmingham University pool, it was never clear how many hours access the public would have, how much the entrance price would be and whether any concession schemes would be carried over onto the University-run pool.
It is premature of this Labour administration to announce the closure of Tiverton Road pool on 1st April 2016, when no public-access arrangement to the new University–run pool have been finalised.
2) The plan is demolishing perfectly good buildings that just require refurbishment.
I’ve already mentioned Northfield, Erdington and Tiverton Road pools that just need refurbishment. Adding to this list is Stechford Cascades. Why this 1960 pool need rebuilding needs serious questioning. I accept it has some rusty pipes here and there – pipes that can be easily replaced. It also has some rot on wooden window frames in places. But the building is structurally sound and could easily be refurbished. It would be far cheaper to refurbish than spend £6 million on a new build.
3) It is in some instances moving pools located in the heart of the community, to new locations over two miles away. Both Northfield and Aston Newtown will have new pools built over two miles away.
Pre-1945 pools were built in shopping centres where public transport was readily available, and along with other community faculties, made that shopping centre the community heart. Call me old-fashioned, but communities need a geographical focus and having a swimming pool at these locations adds to that sense of community heart.
4) And finally, this plan puts to bed the lie used to justify the abandonment of the Heritage Lottery bid for Moseley Road baths, that the council simply has no spare money for capital projects – the council is spending £36 million on these new pools
A lot of nonsense has been sprouted by local Labour councillors over Moseley Road baths. The number one nonsense was that the council simply could not afford the £3 million in 2015 as match funding to restore Moseley Road baths.
How those same Labour councillors can justify spending £36 million on other swimming pools after claiming the financial cupboard was bare……well, don’t hold your breath waiting for a response.