Tag Archives: Friends of Sparkhill Baths

Public Meeting on Sparkhill Baths redevelopment

A public meeting to detail progress and gauge opinion on the redevelopment of Sparkhill Baths takes place next Tuesday, July 26th (7pm) at Sparkhill Cultural Centre, Stratford Road (next door to the existing baths building). The meeting is organised by the Save Our Swimming campaign group and the panel will include Councillor Martin Mullaney, Birmingham City Council Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture.

Sparkhill Baths - pre-closure

Sparkhill Baths - pre-closure

Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre closed in July 2008 following the discovery of asbestos in the swimming pool hall, but a surveyor’s report subsequently uncovered serious structural problems and, following a public consultation process in spring 2010, a decision was taken to demolish the existing structure, which dates from 1931 and is locally listed Grade ‘B’, and build a replacement along similar lines to that currently being erected in Harborne.

A recent Hall Green Constituency meeting agreed to support proposals taken by the Council Cabinet to hand the running of the new facility to the private sector, although the building would remain publicly owned (a similar arrangement will be implemented at Harborne when that facility opens in late 2011 or early 2012).

Local councillors, council officers and Hall Green MP Roger Godsiff have all been invited to attend but with the new building not expected to open until 2014 at the earliest, and the detailed design and specification still to be determined, there remains plenty of scope for public input.

This article first appeared in the Birmingham Press on July 20th 2011

Decisions on Sparkhill Baths Rebuilding

Tonight a discussion on the rebuilding of Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre will take place at the Hall Green Constituency Committee. We would encourage all regular swimmers and gym users to attend to ensure that their views are taken into account at what could be a very important meeting in deciding who rebuilds, finances and manages the new facility.

The procurement will be presented in full at this meeting. Amongst the options is Option 4: Design, build, operate and maintain by an external contractor.  This clearly has ramifications for the way our leisure services are funded and managed.  Both the Sparkhill Baths group and FoMRB have major misgivings about the role of the private sector in the city’s leisure services.

The meeting details are:

Venue: Kings Heath Primary School, Valentine Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham B14

Date and Time: Tuesday 28th June, 7pm

Agenda notes can be found at: http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/democracy/Pages/MeetingDetail.aspx?MeetSchedID%3d18338

Investigating Leisure Trusts

It appears that many councillors and council officers within Birmingham City Council are keen to transfer leisure services within Birmingham, including all swimming pools into a ‘Leisure Trust’.  They are expected to vote on this in the coming months.

A Leisure Trust is essentially an independent body which will take the responsibility for providing the services that the council currently has a statutory duty to provide.  Many councils currently use this model (including neighbouring Sandwell).  Many reasons are cited for this, not least the ability to raise more funds that are currently unavailable to local authorities.

Andrew Brightwell has been doing some sterling investigative journalism over the past few months to find out why councils are so keen to pass responsibility over to Leisure Trusts, and whether the assumptions made about them are correct.  I really recommend having a read through his blog, Where Can We Swim? which has loads of well researched facts and figures, many specific to Birmingham.  His most recent post, Investigating Leisure Trusts: The real work starts now!! summarises just some of his research and calls on all of us to scrutinise the process that our local councillors and council officers are working on behind the scenes.

Friends of Moseley Road Baths have major misgivings about transferring services to a Trust.  These include the need to protect staff pay and conditions (one of the most valuable assets in any public service), maintain and improve standards, sensitively protect the fabric of the building and to commit to accessibility for all.

We also have concerns about the nature of any body taking over services.  Will they, for instance, invest any profits back into the service, can they be accountable and responsive to service users (whose taxes still pay for the service) and will we be able to put them under the same level of scrutiny as any other public body?  At the present time such trusts are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act – an anomaly that MP Tom Brake is trying to address.

So, what are your thoughts?  Is Councillor Mullaney presenting us with a quick fix which is too good to be true, or is the ‘Big Society’ vision of devolving power to trusts and community groups a sustainable, successful model for swimming pools that we should aspire to?  What questions should Friends of Moseley Road Baths be asking of the Council.  Is it maybe the case that this model could work for other pools, but not for a Grade II* listed building?  Oh, and please, please, take time to have a look at Andy’s site and leave your comments and questions!

Abandoned

The Guardian put out a request for readers’ photos on the theme ‘derelict’ last week. The result was a collection of some of the most heartbreaking pictures of buildings which are a shadow of their former glory.

Amongst the pictures was a photo from Emma Jones (editorialgirl) of the Gala Pool at Moseley Road Baths which you can view on the Guardian’s site.  The article incorrectly describes the swimming pool as abandoned (there is another fully functioning pool on site), but it’s not difficult to see why they drew that conclusion.  I’m not sure how I feel about it: the pool is absolutely gorgeous, even in its present state, and I think that the more publicity the building has the better, but it’s absolutely shameful that such a building remains in the ownership of Birmingham City Council in such a state.  I feel embarrassed that my local pool should so frequently be on ‘most endangered’ and ‘most neglected’ lists, but it seems that our local politicians share no such concern.  Their silence over the past few months has been deafening.

The current state of play is that we have been presented with some three year old figures for the full refurbishment of the Gala Pool (estimated cost, £9m), but it has been made clear that this possible work is tied in with the future of Sparkhill Baths, which will be rebuilt on the current site.  Whilst that is decided Moseley Road Baths is in a continuing state of decline, with urgent work required to make the building watertight.  We took the volunteers from our Pool of Memories Project around the building a few weeks ago (more on that later!), and we were all shocked at just how bad the first floor flat is looking.

So, if you share our despair, think about dropping some of the local councillors a line and asking them what they plan to do in the immediate future to preserve Moseley Road Baths.

Martin.Mullaney@birmingham.gov.uk – Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture

Sparkbrook Councillors

Salma.Yaqoob@birmingham.gov.uk
Mohammed.Ishtiaq@birmingham.gov.uk
Shokat.Ali@birmingham.gov.uk

Better still, consider attending one of their Advice Surgeries.  Let us know how you get on!

Sparkhill Consultation

As part of the Council’s ongoing plans for replacing Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre they have called a series of consultations for this week.  So far it appears that consultations have not had any mention of how the building should be financed and managed, something which campaigners over in Sparkhill believe is absolutely fundamental to the kind of facility they end up with, and how it will be maintained.  Councillor Mullaney is firmly in favour of a Private Public Partnership scheme, where finance and management will come from ‘Pulse Fitness’.  But is this really what’s best for the facility and for the public?  Either way, head along to one of the consultations and see if you can get some answers… and let us know how it goes!

Sparkhill Residents Reject PFI Swimming Pool Proposals

Sparkhill residents last night unanimously rejected proposals for a PFI-funded swimming pool on the Moseley School site in Springfield Road. Steve Beauchampé reports on a highly charged meeting (This article also appears on The Stirrer website).

A public meeting of Sparkhill residents last night unanimously rejected proposals for a PFI-funded swimming pool on the Moseley School site in Springfield Road to replace the former pool on Stratford Road, which closed in July 2008 after 77 years of service owing to major structural defects.

The meeting, organised by the Save Sparkhill Baths campaign group, was attended by around 80 residents, Councillors and Council officials following news that private sector firm Pulse Fitness (who already run many gymnasiums on city council leisure sites) had offered to build and operate a new pool for the district in return for an initial £3m of public investment.

But after 90 minutes of what at times was a messy and rowdy meeting, a straw poll of residents voted unanimously in favour of the promised replacement facilities being located on the site of the current pool, adjacent to Sparkhill Park, in what many regard as the civic heart of Sparkhill.

Council Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture Martin Mullaney came under fire for appearing to favour the Pulse proposals, finding himself isolated with not one member of the audience supporting the proposal, and even fellow Liberal Democrat Councillor Jerry Evans cautioning against the plans.

Evans, who together with Respect Party Leader Salma Yaqoob, are contesting the Hall Green Constituency at the forthcoming General Election, were keen to distance themselves from what was clearly an unpopular proposal. They were joined in their opposition by Labour’s Roger Godseiff, the sitting MP. Mullaney however, as an elected council official, is legally obliged to give detailed consideration to Pulse’s intervention though there is little doubt that their plans hold for him the significant attraction of allowing the city to deliver a rebuilt Sparkhill Pool and undertake essential refurbishment works to re-open the Gala Pool at the Grade II* Moseley Road Baths in Balsall Heath within the £15m allocated to the two Hall Green Constituency projects by the Council’s Cabinet last October.

However, concerns, including the Springfield Road location, the loss of community control over public facilities, the absence of a learner pool in the Pulse proposals and ideological arguments over PFI schemes led the meeting to express support for one of the more expensive options, either a six-lane pool, 60 station gym, sauna and dance studio (costed at £13.1m) or a four-lane pool, learner pool, 30 station gym, sauna and dance studio (£10.9m).

Mullaney meets Pulse Fitness for the first time today (Thursday) to look at their plans in detail, though it is already known that their proposal would involve a six-lane pool with moveable floor, an 80 station gym, sauna and dance studio. School usage would be prioritised during weekdays (as is currently the case at most Birmingham pools) however a separate entrance would allow public access to the site (which also includes a sports hall and floodlit pitches – though these are not part of the PFI proposals). The meeting heard that the city council would continue to set the tariffs for public use of the new centre’s facilities but would be expected to meet an anticipated shortfall in running costs (which includes a fee payable to Pulse for operating the centre) of £228,000 per annum. If given the green light, the pool would be operational by 2013.

Mullaney pledged full public consultation once talks with Pulse had been concluded and the final details of their proposals established, telling the meeting that public opinion would be “a very strong factor in our final decision.” The exact format and timescale of any public consultation exercise is yet to be determined but, Mullaney stated, would be conducted by Sparkhill Ward officials.

Steve Beauchampé

United against PFI scheme

At the Friends of Moseley Road Baths meeting with Cllr Mullaney on 21st January we discussed options for funding swimming provision in Hall Green Constituency.  Three options have been put on the table for the urgent work required to ensure that Sparkhill has swimming facilities.  Two of these involve building new swimming facilities on the current site, with costs estimated at £10m and £13m respectively.  A third involves a PFI pool at Moseley School as part of their new sports and leisure facilities which has been costed at £3m.

The big-sell on this is that the less Council money spent on Sparkhill the more money will be available to re-open Moseley Road Bath’s Gala Pool.

We welcome plans to re-open Moseley Road Baths’ Gala Pool and fully support the Friends of Sparkhill Baths’ calls to ensure that swimming facilities are provided in Sparkhill as soon as possible.  However, we are fully behind the Friends of Sparkhill Baths in their opposition to the PFI model for our public swimming facilities.  We also agree that Sparkhill Pool should remain on its current site, whether that means utilising the facade of the existing pool or rebuilding on the Stratford Road site.

You can read more about the plans and politics around it on The Stirrer website – here and here.  In the meantime we are urging Cllr Mullaney and council officers to ensure that consultation and decisions around the future of swimming provision at both Sparkhill and Moseley Road Baths are transparent and accountable.  Our local pools are in such a dire state because of years of short-term planning, lack of proper investment and politicking.  Let’s ensure that good quality provision, accessibility and the needs of the immediate community are put at the heart of new plans.

There will be a meeting at 6.45pm on Wednesday 3rd February at Sparkhill Social and Cultural Centre on Stratford Rd, next to the swimming baths for all those interested in the plans.  Cllr Mullaney has decided not to attend the meeting, but it is hoped that he will reverse this decision and use the opportunity to speak directly with the public on this issue.

NB. We have since learnt that Cllr Mullaney WILL be attending this meeting.