Plans to revive historic spa ‘best Birley has ever seen’
A heritage expert has supported proposals to turn a historic 177-year-old spa into a modern day retreat, saying it is the “best proposal to improve health and education” the area had seen.
Joyce Bullivant, of the Timewalk Project, supported plans put forward by a campaign group who are planning to revive Birley Spa, in Hackenthorpe, which is the last remaining Victorian spa in South Yorkshire still set in its original grounds.
MP Clive Betts has also backed the campaign to save it.
Over nearly two centuries its building and surrounding woodland has been used as a children’s playground, boating, a pool and for heritage tours, community meetings and wedding receptions.
The council planned to auction it off last year with a guide price of up to £100,000 but this was postponed for more talks with the community.
But this month, the council announced they would be auctioning off the spa again, giving the community just six weeks notice to put a bid together.
Ms Bullivant said: “It is hard to conceive how changing the use of the spa building and removing it from public use can have anything but a negative impact on a beleaguered Birley and stifle the ability of the community to self improve.
“The Friends of Birley Spa’s plan is quite frankly the best plan there has been in Birley for a number of years to improve the health and education of the local community and is likely to have a bigger impact than any top down approach from the council.
“It is ironic that Friends of Birley Spa may have to cancel their participation to Heritage Open Day due to the impending sale. The theme of HOD is people power.”
She added the Worker’s Education Association were keen to hold adult learning classes there and said the woodland would provide a good outdoor learning space for schools.
Ms Bullivant said there is a high proportion of older people living with health conditions, a rise in the number of young people seeking help for mental health issues and poor attainment levels in schools in the area. She said a revived Birley Spa could help tackle some of these issues.
But councillor Paul Wood, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and community safety, said although the plans were good, they would not be financially sustainable to fix the severe damage to the site and keep it running.
He said: “I admire their aspiration but that will not stop the building deteriorating.
“The main issues are still the same, the building needs underpinning, the roof needs major work where the sinking has pulled away some roof joists, the upper floor is unsafe, the steps down are very dangerous, the windows need replacing and the list goes on, this is not like them asking for a closed community hall it’s a major refurbishment and urgent repair situation.
“So asking if the site would improve health and well being certainly not in its current unusable state of course any building in good condition could claim that, but still we are not addressing the fundamental groups lack of money and long term income.”
Coun Wood and the campaign group are meeting next Monday to discuss the proposals.
The site goes up for auction on August 10.