Plug pulled to empty Moseley Road Baths?
The campaign to save Moseley Road Baths has entered a critical stage following recent announcements. In an ironic reversal of fortune to my post about preserving Bournville Lane Baths, From depths of one pool into another - Bournville Baths to be saved?, the future of Moseley Road Baths now seems to rest on the work of the public in fighting to preserve them against council plans. The recent revelation by the Friends of Moseley Road Baths of the council's intention towards the baths after a meeting between them and local councillors, Council announce intention to close Baths for swimming, follows the announcement in December by the Friends' of the council's decision not to submit a bid to the Heritage Lottery Find (HLF) for works to the baths.
The Friends of Moseley Road Baths met with three local Labour councillors and the Deputy Leader of the Council on 9 January 2013 where the council's belief that there was no long term future for swimming at the baths was revealed.
Recently the council’s passed up the opportunity to attract several million pounds of Heritage Lottery funding to restore the building, on the basis that the council has no money to match fund. Instead they say they are committed merely to preserve the fabric of the building. The Friends of Moseley Road Baths believe that swimming is a vital part of its future as a heritage building.The Group’s Secretary, Rachel Gillies, said, ‘If these councillors were to walk into this facility in their own ward then they would see how busy the building is. The fact that they would even contemplate closing it for swimming when there is such a high demand shows how out of touch they are with the electorate and how ignorant they are of the need for a facility where people of all ages can come and get fit.’Closing the facility for swimming would leave local schools without a place to swim, meaning that a majority of local pupils would not meet the national standard for swimming proficiency.
Council announce intention to close Baths for swimming
Former local councillor Martin Mullaney who had worked tirelessly to try and secure the future of the pool has noted recent developments and the new Labour City Council administration's u-turn on securing the pool's future.
Using precious little Council resources, we had found the money (£50,000) to pull together a Heritage Lottery bid for £5million, with the addition of £3million from the Council’s 2015 capital budget to be used as match funding. This £8million restoration would have secured the future of the building for 25years plus and allowed swimming to continue in Pool 2. To re-open Pool 1 for swimming would have been phase 2 of the long term restoration.
By December 2012, the Heritage Lottery bid was complete and just needed a stamp putting on it and sticking in the post. The new Labour administration decided instead not to do this – indeed they had hoped nobody would notice, but luckily the Friends of Moseley Road baths have been keeping a close eye on its progress through the Council machinery and did notice.
The restoration was timed to start in 2015, since this would coincide with the re-opening of the new Sparkhill baths. Phase 1 of the restoration of Moseley Road baths would require the building to be closed to the public for up to two years and it wouldn’t make sense to do this while Sparkhill baths was still closed.
Aside from the significant historical importance of the Moseley Road Baths the closure would challenge the previous ambitious Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition's plans for a swimming pool within a 20 minute walk of every resident, City council set to splash out on swimming pools, and a focus on residents being more active. With a national focus on getting people healthier and a previous report to Cabinet on 27 September 2004 from the Strategic Director of Local Services regarding the future of the pool, noting swimming as a priority for the city, the decision regarding the pool is quite perverse. The pool also hosts women only times and the Moseley Shoals, Birmingham's social gay swim group, http://www.moseleyshoals.org.uk encouraging a diverse group of users.
The baths' historical importance is national with the baths the oldest of only three Grade II* Listed swimming baths currently operating in Britain. The baths also have the only complete set of washing or "slipper" baths, which closed to the public in 2004.
The gothic renaissance red brick and terracotta baths opened on 30 October 1907 at a cost of £32,924. The baths and adjoining Free Library, which opened in 1895, were a reward for Balsall Heath agreeing to annexation by Birmingham; the Local Board of Health was taken over in 1891 and as part of the deal the city agreed to build on the Moseley Road a library and public washing baths and swimming baths; (Chinn, Streets of Birmingham Part 3, 2006).
The following information, showing floor plans, shows the historical importance of the baths.
- The only complete set of pre-war private washing, or 'slipper' baths extant in Britain (46 in total), still with the original oak ticket office and attendants' kiosks largely intact.
- A three-sided spectator gallery and unique balconettes in the Gala (or First Class) Pool as well as the original poolside arched glazed brick dressing boxes.
- A 98ft long Gothic renaissance red brick and terracotta frontage, lavishly embellished and decorated.
- Possibly the only surviving steam-heated drying racks in a British swimming baths, sited in the First Floor laundry room.
- The original 45,000-gallon capacity cast iron cold water storage tank.
Picture showing the Moseley Road frontage with the baths on the left and library behind with clock tower:
In 2007, awaiting a council conservation feasibility report on the baths' future, the Friends of Moseley Road Baths produced a 24 page Future of Moseley Road Baths report, http://fofmrb.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/proposalfinal.pdf, noting that the closure of the pool was not feasible. The delay by the City Council in releasing the report produced by respected Rodney Melville and Sons, DEEP SECRETS OF MOSELEY ROAD POOL, which had been promised in the Autumn of 2007 led the Friends of Moseley Road Baths to produce their own report to help shape the debate about preserving the historically important building. The report was issued prior to the public release of the City Council commissioned conservation report in January 2008.
The city council report, previously linked to from Martin Mullaney's blog, http://martinmullaney.blogspot.co.uk/2008_01_01_archive.html, can no longer be accessed from the link on his blog and a search of the City Council website for the report conveniently does not return it. Mullaney referred to the contents of the report noting that the recommendations were for the reopening of the larger second pool while using the space of the first pool in an alternative use such as for training, health or the local community.
The release of the report was noted in the Birmingham Mail the following day, Give Birmingham's historic Moseley Road baths £23m, says report.
He added: "Whilst the option to refurbish both pools appears to be cheaper, it would not be financially viable in terms of its running costs and such an option would require a continued level of very high subsidy.
"The baths is one of the most expensive of all of the city council's pools to run, and is currently costing more than £250,000 in subsidies every year. Following the recommendations the city council is now exploring how the preferred option could be delivered, including the possibility of transferring the building into a heritage trust, with some financial support from the council.
"Other local authorities have chosen this route and a good example is the former Victoria Road Baths in Manchester which was the winner of the BBC Restoration programme a few years ago.http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/give-birminghams-historic-moseley-road-56005
The baths, due to age and maintenance have faced continual challenges with the pool closed for nearly a year and half due to the repair of problems identified while repairing a fire exit door. The baths reopened in April 2012 after 16 months of repairs to ensure the smaller of the pools could remain open following the replacement of a rotten lintel above a fire exit door, the discovery and removal of asbestos in the basement and the removal of lead paint that was dropping into the pool, Long wait is over as Birmingham's Moseley Road Baths re-opens, Moseley Road baths re-opening delayed again.
The pool is an amazing link to the municipalism of the Victorian and Edward 'city fathers' and I would recommend taking a dip in history and enjoying the pool. Current opening times, reproduced from Birmingham City Council website (http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=CustomerServices-SelfService%2FCFPageLayout&cid=1223317045422&pagename=BCC%2FCommon%2FWrapper%2FCFWrapper), are shown below as of 27 January 2013.
A petition has been created, http://epetition.birmingham.public-i.tv/epetition_core/community/petition/2146, which if it receives 20,000 signatures will automatically trigger a debate at City Council. Failing the petition reaching this number, if it reaches 10,000 signatures it will be referred to the appropriate Overview and Scrutiny Committee for a Senior Officer to attend and answer questions about the delivering of public services.
You can find more information on the petition and campaign to save the baths using Twitter (www.twitter.com/moseleyrdbaths) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/friendsofmrb).