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Historic Moseley Road baths to close as Council transforms services in the face of budget cuts

Historic Moseley Road baths to close as Council transforms services in the face of budget cuts

🕔26.Nov 2013

Birmingham’s historic Moseley Road swimming baths is to close as part of a radical restructuring of city council-owned leisure services, it has been confirmed.

The Grade 11 listed building, one of only a few surviving examples of Edwardian baths anywhere in  the country, has been beset by maintenance problems in recent years and council leaders have concluded the cost of repairs would be prohibitive.

Announcing a “transformation” of leisure services to make facilities fit for the next 20 years, council leader Sir Albert Bore said £36 million would be invested in building six new leisure centres targeting the most disadvantaged communities in Birmingham.

His announcement brings to an end direct control of leisure facilities by the public sector. Under the proposals the council will save money by handing over control of all sports centres and pools to either private sector operators or community-based groups.

Nine existing swimming pools and leisure centres, described by Sir Albert as “old and tired buildings”, will close. They are Newtown Pool and Fitness Centre, Colmers Community Leisure Centre, Court Road Leisure Centre, Erdington Leisure Centre, Moseley Road Baths, Northfield Pool and Fitness Centre, Shard End Community Centre, Stechford Cascades and Tiverton Pool and Fitness Centre.

They will be replaced by a mixture of old and new leisure centres at Harborne, Sparkhill, Perry Barr, Selly Oak, Erdington, Yardley, Ladywood, Northfield, Hodge Hill and Sutton Coldfield. Some of the new buildings will be wellbeing hubs, designed to encourage local people to live more active and healthier lives.

The £36 million cost of new-build will be covered by a £6 million grant from Sport England and a £30 million council loan. Sir Albert explained that the loan repayments would be met by the private sector operators.

The council will let contracts to potential contractors in two packages covering the north and south of the city, with the new operators set to take over in April 2015.

The shake-up has been forced on to the council by the need to address huge cuts in Government grant, made worse by a £5.3 million a year deficit in the leisure services budget.

But Sir Albert insisted the final outcome would be good news for service users: “I think I can claim that this is about transforming leisure services and that this will give us fit for purpose facilities for the 21st century.

“The intention is to close a number of old and tired buildings which are almost falling over with leaking roofs and boilers that are giving us cause for concern.”

The proposals, to be confirmed by the cabinet next month, were a tricky test of Sir Albert’s commitment to devolved services since the city’s 10 district committees are in theory responsible for running swimming pools and leisure centres. However, strategic control of leisure services remains with the cabinet.

Six months of tense negotiations with the district committees resulted in the proposals published by Sir Albert. Asked if the district committee unanimously approved of the proposals, Sir Albert said: “Of course it is a compromise. Some of the districts would have wanted slightly different arrangements. But we were never going to get one hundred per cent agreement.”

Deputy council leader Ian Ward said the cost of renovating Moseley Road Swimming baths would be “almost as much as the £36 million that we are planning to spend on investing in leisure facilities across the entire city”. The sum was simply unaffordable, he added.

The scheduled closure of the baths is likely to spark a lively contest in Moseley at next May’s city council elections, where Labour will be attempting to oust the ward’s sole Liberal Democrat councillor Ernie Hendricks. The Lib Dems have campaigned strongly in the past to save the baths.

The baths opened in 1908 and remain a popular local asset. But the future of the facility has been in doubt for several years and the building was closed briefly in 2010 to allow asbestos to be removed from the basement. One of the two pools has been mothballed since September 2003.

Cover Image: Pools of Memories ‘Moseley Swimming Baths’

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