Sheffield spa closes over bus gate fines 'cash scam' row

The closure of a historic Sheffield city centre spa has been blamed on bus gates which generated more than £100,000 worth of fines last year.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 8:35 pm

The owner of Spa 1877, which lies within the Victorian building formerly known to many as ‘Glossop Road Baths’, announced today that it was shutting down with immediate effect.

Steve Wilkinson said the company was no longer sustainable due to the catastrophic effect on business of bus and tram gates on Glossop Road, close to where it meets West Street.

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Spa 1877 owner Steve Wilkinson in front of one of the Glossop Road bus gates

Announcing the closure on the spa’s website, he said the gates which stand either side of the building had ‘restricted access, deterred clients and actually created a trap in order to drive revenue for Sheffield Council’.

He claimed the spa was the ninth business on that stretch to have closed in the last few years because the bus gates were deterring visitors.

Mr Wilkinson told The Star: “This is a cash scam which has had a catastrophic effect on our business, costing us around £200 a day and it got to the point where I’m looking at the numbers and having to ask myself do I put more money into it or call it a day.

“It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and when I told staff some of them were in tears, but I feel I've been left with no other option.”

Steve Wilkinson, of Spa 1877, says his business is the ninth to close on that stretch of Glossop Road in the last few years

The spa, which Mr Wilkinson said employed around 30 staff, opened in 2004 after a major restoration project to revive the dilapidated landmark, which included repairing or replacing tens of thousands of glazed bricks lining the Turkish baths.

The gates were installed in 2010 to prevent westbound traffic using the road during the evening peak and holding up trams and buses.

In each of the years 2016/17 and 2017/18, a camera at the Regent Street junction generated fines totalling around £45,000.

But last year, that figure leapt to nearly £109,000, after an automatic number plate recognition camera replaced one which had been manually operated.

The bus gates have been criticised by other businesses on the road, including the owner of TL Killi’s who claimed it cost him up to £1,000 a week in lost turnover and even took his case to the Prime Minister.

Peter Sephton, chairman of the city centre residents group ChangingSheff, claimed the ‘confusing’ system had ‘killed the economy’ of Glossop Road between Boots at Regent Street and the ring road at Hanover Street, yet the council had refused to the group’s demands for action or those from the many businesses affected.

“The closure of the spa is a tragedy, but the council has been warned about the impact on the economy so often, and has taken no notice whatsoever,” he said.

“The council is an absolute disgrace… the way it treats its local businesses and citizens is absolutely appalling.”

Mr Sephton added that there was a covenant in place requiring the council, which owns the building, to keep the spa open, and he did not know where this decision would leave the council and the building’s head leaseholder, Mr Wilkinson.

Mr Wilkinson has previously presented the council with a bill for £300,000, which he said was how much the the bus gate had cost him in lost revenue.

In 2018, he successfully appealed a fine issued to him for driving within the bus gates and this year said he managed to overturn three further fines though five were upheld this time by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal.

Sheffield Council has previously defended the bus gate restrictions, and pointed out that any revenue generated is invested back into public transport, cycling and walking schemes.

Mr Wilkinson said he would be in touch with customers who had made deposits for bookings or bought gift vouchers, who he said would be reimbursed, and more announcements would follow on the spa’s website.

The Star has contacted Sheffield Council.