Anger at Sheffield Council for ignoring community on historic site

Residents are 'angry' at Sheffield City Council for blocking access to a historic spa and refusing to consult with the public about its future.

Friday, 24th August 2018, 1:06 pm
Updated Friday, 24th August 2018, 5:55 pm
Residents and the Friends of Birley Spa outside the bath house

The Friends of Birley Spa are campaigning to pull the breaks on an auction to sell off the Grade II-listed Birley Spa Bath House, in Hackenthorpe, saying there needs to be more discussion with the public.

According to the Friends, the council have also put barriers up to block cars from reaching the site - preventing frail and disabled people from visiting the site’s pond, which is part of Shirebrook Valley Nature Reserve.

Residents and the Friends of Birley Spa outside the bath house

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Abby Beckett-Smith, leader of the group, said: “We cannot believe the insensitivity that the council are showing to people at the moment. This comes on top of them not even bothering to consult with the public over Birley Spa.

“There is absolutely no urgency to sell the building this quickly. The roof does need some attention but I am sure that this is well-within the council resources to repair and if done now would not be too expensive.”

The bath house is the last remaining Victorian spa still set in its original grounds in South Yorkshire and over its many years has been host to community meetings, bathing, wedding receptions, a pleasure ground for children and history tours.

But after recent years of neglect the council decided to put the 176-year-old spa up for auction saying it would cost them too much to renovate.

Sign outside Birley Spa Bath House

It is set to sell on September 4 with a guide price of £75,000 and £100,000. A figure the Friends group called “shockingly low”.

In 1998 the council received a large grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the building. But, after enjoying a short-lived revival in 2002 when it reopened, it has since fallen into rack and ruin.

Some warn the building could fall down in the next few years if it is not repaired.

The council said to safeguard the building’s future it will be sold on a 250-year lease with conditions to ensure the buyer brings the building back into good repair within two years.

Sign outside Birley Spa Bath House

But there is no assurance the community will be allowed to use the site once it is sold.

The Friends are campaigning to postpone the sale for two months to allow full discussions between the public and the council on the future of the site which has been backed by MP Clive Betts.

Ms Beckett-Smith said: “At an auction there are no checks on who buys the property so this could basically sell to anyone, not necessarily someone interested in preserving the historic features."

Some heritage experts have also warned the site will not be compatible for another use due to the plunge pool.

Ms Beckett-Smith added: "We are absolutely horrified at the break-neck speed that the council are pursuing this plan to sell Birley Spa. This is happening when many local people are away on holiday at the moment."

“There has been absolutely no public consultation at all or any meaningful discussion with the Friend’s group.

“From our own public consultation we discovered that community would like to use the building again and that there is a serious offer to open a cafe there.”

Around 80 people from across the area turned out to offer their support at a recent meeting organised by the group and a petition calling to halt the sale has so far gained 796 signatures.

The council said the barrier was installed in the early 2000s following a spate of anti-social behaviour including fly tipping and burnt out cars on the site and added the pedestrian access to the bathhouse remains open at all times.