Council and campaigners continue to clash over historic building

A senior councillor says “misleading and untruthful” information about how the council has dealt with a historic building has been hurtful.

Thursday, 18th July 2019, 7:41 pm
Updated Friday, 19th July 2019, 5:21 pm
Birley Spa bath house

Coun Paul Wood, cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said the council had done “absolutely everything possible” to work with a community group on the 177-year-old Birley Spa Bath House.

In response to criticisms from the Friends of Birley Spa, he said he was proud of the work the council had done and had nothing to hide.

The Victorian bath house was put up for sale with a guide price of around £100,000 with ‘no consultation’ campaigners said.

The Birley Spa Friends Group protesting about the possible Auction of the Birley Spa Bath House,off Birley Spa Lane, Hackenthorpe...........Pic Steve Ellis

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The Friends group was set up to keep it in the public’s hands and the council postponed the sale for further talks.

The group said the council had promised it could apply for funds to restore the building and was shocked to be told it had until August 10 to find the money or it would be sold.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Coun Wood said: “The amount of misleading information going out is massive, to say the least. I think this is the only grade 2 listed building in south east of the city so it’s a priority.”

Coun Wood said campaigners were told they needed to put a business plan together to ensure the building didn’t fall down and had a viable future.

A survey found major problems with the structure, including damp, and there’s an urgency to get repairs done before winter. A lack of access for emergency services also hampered many development ideas, said Coun Wood.

“The group has had since the start of this year to get some deal for major funding. We went through their plan which had no viability whatsoever.

“All they had secured was a commitment from someone to take the upstairs floor for £10,000 a year rent. We know the estimated running costs are £30,000 so they didn’t even have enough money to run the building on a yearly figure.

“We asked them to come back with a plan. They came with the same deal so we had to say at that stage, you can’t afford to do the repairs.

“We have never asked them for a penny for the building. We have made it very clear we are not after a large capital receipt for the building. All we have asked them is to produce a plan to repair and run the building and save its unique heritage. We need that building to be saved.

“We have had continued negotiations over 14 months. It’s misleading as this is not last minute.

“Some of the committee, not all, have come to some realisation that we should give them the building and let them hope they raise the money to retain it. It’s totally irresponsible.

“The council continues to support them. It has to be a joint venture. We have not done anything without them. We have done everything that’s absolutely possible. It’s quite upsetting when we have put so much effort into this.

“This is misleading and untruthful and we have done as good a job as anybody on this council. I have nothing to hide on how we have dealt with this and feel proud of it. We have given this group massive support.”

Birley Spa in Hackenthorpe was built in 1842. In the 1920s and 30s, the grounds were transformed into a playground for children. It is one of the last remaining Victorian bath houses in the north of England.