Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
Chairman: I should like to make two preliminary
remarks before we start. The first is that I cannot remember any
inquiry we have launched which has been greeted with such a huge
amount of evidence submitted by public and organisations. I think
that augers well for this session today. The second is that I
ought to make a declaration of interest, namely that I have been
involved in the campaign to bring Manchester Victoria Baths back
into use and Gill Wright is a valued constituent of mine.
1. Gill, can you quickly tell us whether you
are open or closed? If you are closed, what is it that you really
want to open again.
(Ms Wright) The swimming pool is closed; it has been
closed since March 1993. We particularly want to open one of the
swimming pools. It was built with three and it currently has two
pools. We particularly want to open one of the swimming pools
and the Turkish baths at Victoria Baths. There is scope for providing
a lot of other community facilities within the building as well
because it is a very large building.
2. What is the position of English Heritage
with regard to these types of pools?
(Mr Velluet) In this context we are primarily involved
with listed swimming pools, although I stress that we recognise
there are many other pools up and down the country which are not
listed but which may be of historic or architectural interest
and which are of course of major community interest and concern.
We are seeking to work with local authorities and local communities
in encouraging the effective use of listed swimming pools. Insofar
as we are able, we are seeking to work towards grant assistance
for such projects which will bring pools back into use and working
with the local authorities and the community in terms of planning
and listed building scenarios which will affect their restoration
and repair. We are not there as the primary focus of activity,
we are there to assist and support within the parameters set by
formal legislation and guidance from central government.
3. What relationship have you had with Gill
then, in the nicest possible way?
(Mr Velluet) A modest one to date.
4. Is that a bone of contention or has it been
(Ms Wright) No, it is not; English Heritage are very
supportive. They have recently awarded a grant of £150,000
towards urgent works at Victoria Baths.
5. Is there a weakness in the law currently
which would be relevant to all historical buildings but in particular
to the baths situation?
(Mr Velluet) When you say weakness in the law, it
is not so much the law as the structure under which we operate
our grant regimes. Outside London our grant regimes are specifically
targeted towards Grade I and Grade II* listed buildings and there
are very few listed swimming pool buildings which are of such
high grading. The majority of listed swimming pools are in the
Grade II category and our grants regime, as set by Government,
by legislation, does not provide our capacity to give money towards
Grade IIs other than in the context of much broader area-based
initiatives. In Greater London it is different because we inherited
the powers and resources of the GLC and we do have a greater involvement
with Grade II listed buildings within London. There is an anomalous
situation between London and the rest of the country, where we
are restricted in our ability to engage in Grade IIs outside London.
6. Is there anything the others would like to
comment on either about heritage or about the local position in
(Mr D'Souza) Savio D'Souza from Govanhill Pool in
Glasgow. The real problem is that the whole approach to swimming
is very disjointed. Sport England and Sport Scotland have issued
similar reports saying there is a big funding crisis after many
years of neglect of these pools. A huge investment is needed in
order to look after these pools. What we are trying to do is encourage
some community involvement as it is a community resource and give
them an opportunity to be involved in that discussion to save
these pools. That applies across the country. These are valuable
resources of the local community and a framework needs to be set
7. Trevor Brooking said to us in evidence when
we were talking about Picketts Lock that he thought an investment
was required of £5.4 billion to repair and just keep the
current swimming pools. Forgive me, but that is a huge amount
of money, so it is unlikely it is going to come. I cannot work
out how the swimming will get funded in the future. I think that
is the crisis we have.
(Ms Clark) There are several areas which need attention
beyond the English heritage. Most of those pools are in areas
of high poverty, where they are often the only amenity and often
much larger than the swimming pool alone, therefore could do a
lot more for the community. The size of the building does mean
that usually after about 100 years of neglect they do need quite
a big investment by the local authority. In Hackney we estimate
it will only be about £3.5 million to bring it back into
modern use with a long-term life. The other problem we find is
that the pools are less and less seen as a public amenity. They
should be seen in the same light as libraries, etc. For example,
eight of our local schools took swimming off the curriculum on
the closure of the pool.
However, they have also been seen, certainly in local authorities,
more and more as something which ought to be making a profit.
That is a key tension between the amenity aspects as a community
resource and the income generation aspect of pools. We would really
stress looking at the pools in the context of the overall community
rather than just as a swimming pool. Picketts Lock is some way
outside London. A lot of these in central London do not actually
need that level of investment.
(Ms Corr) Barbara Corr from Marshall
Street Baths, Soho. In Marshall Street which is owned by Westminster
City Council a private sector leisure operator was prepared to
put in £5 million of the £7.1 million needed to refurbish
them and bring the pool back into use. There was a shortfall of
£2 million which Westminster City Council were not prepared
to spend. It was £2 million and it is in a very densely populated
area. Those people do not have a pool for lack of £2 million.
8. I am very pleased to hear Paul Velluet say
that he sees the role of English Heritage as being one to assist
and support those organisations trying to restore pools. Could
you give us a little more insight into what work you have actually
(Mr Velluet) Within the London context it is a very
close relationship, working with London's local planning authorities
in seeking to encourage them to have regard to the obligations
of looking after their listed buildings, pools included, to look
into ways of effecting their repair and bringing back into use
where they have ceased use, or disposing of them in an appropriate
way which keeps the use and the building. We have a very, very
limited allocation of grant funding available from central government.
It is spread very, very thinly across the country and certainly
in London. If I might just refer to the level of funding related
to the burden, if it seems a burden, of listed buildings in their
care, in London there are something like 40,000 listed buildings
and our expenditure on grants in London was limited last financial
year to £3.6 million. Nationally we had secular grant of
£8.6 million available last financial year. Relate that to
the numbers of listed buildings in the country, which is something
approaching half a million. We can offer a very, very thin spread
of grant assistance to building owners, including local authorities.
We seek to channel what limited funds we have into projects which
will lever-in other support. Certainlyin deprived areas,
areas of significant stress and building decay, we would hope
the local authority had the capacity to lever-in other major sources
of both grant and private sector funding to which we can contribute.
9. I just want to explore another area. I am
going to be honest with you. My experience with English Heritage
has not been a happy one. I represent Lichfield and there have
been instances where for example English Heritage say white gloss
must be used but it must be linseed oil based paint. It looks
the same as any other paint, except it costs eight times as much,
lasts a quarter of the time and is highly inflammable. There are
other examples of where building materials are having to be used
which are not as robust and yet are more expensive. Over the last
year or two I have had a long history regarding the restoration
of church bells where there was a Millennium Lottery grant for
this and English Heritage seemed to prevent nearly every church
from having this done. I just want to look to some of the other
witnesses. Have you had any problems? Maybe swimming pools are
modern enough for English Heritage not to prevent you from getting
on with the work of restoration that you want, or maybe what they
ask of you is not too costly.
(Mr D'Souza) From the Scottish perspective, part of
the problem is how to apply for such grants. There is not a great
deal of support on how to apply for these grants, what funding
is available, what criteria there are for the different sources
of funding and that is part of the problem we have experienced.
10. Has anyone had money and English Heritage
has come along and said you cannot do it like that, you have to
use these materials.
(Ms Wright) Our experience to date is that English
Heritage have been incredibly supportive and they are the one
body which is saying to Manchester as a city, not just as a local
authority, that this is not just an old swimming pool, this is
a national asset and it has to be protected. We shall have to
make some intervention into the structure of Victoria Baths if
they are going to have a long-term future, but to date English
Heritage have been very practical and pragmatic in their approach.
I have every confidence that they will let us make the few changes
we have to make if we are going to bring Victoria Baths back into
11. I am pleased to hear that.
(Ms Corr) I would agree that English Heritage have
been very helpful in trying to put pressure on Westminster City
Council to re-open this pool rather than leave it lying empty.
(Ms Clark) From the Haggerston point of view we should
like more pressure because the building is visibly deteriorating.
Windows were left open, despite the fact that it was meant to
be boarded up, which have allowed rot to get in. We think there
is an issue about the inspections. Having said that, they have
inspected and they have demanded that works be carried out which
were carried out, but it was minimal maintenance and the building
is still deteriorating.
(Mr Velluet) I am sorry about your difficulties on
what I assume is a highly graded listed building. I can think
of very, very few examples of the thousands of buildings my team
deals with each year in Central and West London where there has
been a concern about the exact kind of paint being used. I suspect
it must have been a grant issue. The fact is that the decisions
on works to listed buildings are not made by English Heritage.
They are made either by the local planning authority or by the
Secretary of State whom we seek to advise. In London there is
a greater power inherited by the GLC, but the decisions are not
ours, they are for the local authorities. On grant issues, certainly
if public money is being spent on an important listed building,
then we follow Government advice, set out in PPG15, that the right
standards and materials, details and professional supervision
apply. I shall happily take back your concern and ask my regional
colleagues to look into it.
Michael Fabricant: They know; they know.
12. I have a past relationship with English
Heritage in that I once wrote a book for English Heritage on its
lesser known sites. I also swim three times a week roughly. What
I am going to say might upset the people here quite a lot. Tell
me why these baths should be saved? I know many of them are delicious
pieces of architecture. I know that and I did post-graduate work
on architecture. I know about the architecture; super. As a real,
real community resource, I am not convinced by what you have said
so far. Somebody like me can go in and I am quite well off and
I enjoy my swimming and I swim up and down and think this is nice,
swim, swim, swim, this is lovely and out I get again. What I am
really interested in is disability access, children having access
- my child would not like those big pools, thank you very much,
she needs a slope going into itpeople learning to swim,
having all the right access to pools with things to get them in
and out of pools, all these sorts of things. So the huge amount
of money the upkeep of these delicious buildings would take when
we have resources not going in to the "me-too" campaign
for all those who desperately need it and all the serious swimmers
who want to put in the miles.
(Ms Wright) You might assume that a modern swimming
pool was better adapted, for example for disabled access and I
would argue with that in a lot of cases. Victoria Baths, like
a lot of pools of the period, were built with steps going down
into the water rather than ladders. Although it does not have
beach access as some fun pools have, it actually has very good
access for disabled people and people who might not label themselves
disabled but who are nervous about entering the water down a ladder,
turning backwards or jumping into the pool. A young woman who
lives in the council houses just adjoining Victoria Baths joined
our campaign recently. She is in her mid-20s, she is partially
sighted and epileptic. We came down to look at pools in London,
comparable healthy living centres. That was the first time she
had swum since Victoria Baths had closed because she could not
walk to a pool and she could not go down steps, so she would not
access alternative facilities in Manchester. The biggest issue
was transport. We have a wonderful new Commonwealth pool near
the centre of Manchester, but it is full of students, it is full
of people who can drive to the multi-storey car park, it is full
of people who happen to be on the right bus route in and out of
town. The bus routes in and out of Manchester are great but if
you try to cross the city you can be left for three quarters of
an hour or an hour with wet hair and hungry children. You do not
do that more than once. The biggest, biggest issue is transport.
You admitted you drive to a pool, but not everyone can drive to
13. I did not say that. I walk to my pool.
(Ms Wright) I beg your pardon. I thought you mentioned
driving at some point in your submission. Some people can drive
to pools. Better off people will access centralised facilities
but they also over-face nervous swimmers and people who do not
currently swim. I really, really have to take objection to the
facilities planning model which has been put forward by Sport
England. It is based on current participation levels. We could
do much, much better than that. There are loads of people who
want to swim, who are not swimming now. The waiting list at the
local swimming club where I teach proves that. We have a waiting
list which is 50 per cent of the capacity of our club. Those people
are not going to the new pool, because it is twice as expensive,
it is a car journey or two bus rides away. They are not swimming;
their children are not swimming. Local facilities are important
and also the wealth of history which is in them. Yes, they are
beautiful buildings but it is not just about the architecture,
it is about the social history which is in that building. Victoria
Baths represents a big rich slice of Manchester's social history.
If it does not come back into use as a swimming pool, you are
turning your back on that big slice of history and saying that
ordinary Manchester people's history is not important, but it
(Ms Clark) Very few of us are there just for the heritage.
They are a local community resource in the very nature of the
areas. Sixty-two per cent of our residents are living in high
rises in Shoreditch. Car ownership is 32 per cent. To get to a
local baths means, if you cannot walk to it, £2 for the average
family to get to their local swimming pool. It is not only the
swimming for local people. For example there is a mental health
unit which used it for swimming therapy and can no longer afford
to do so. There is a local boat club based in our community on
the canal which used it for training local kids to start using
the canal. They have now had to close their books last summer
and it has added additional costs for them to use other pools.
We have three Olympic hopefuls and we have the names and details
of those Olympic hopefuls. They are now severely restricted in
their access to other pools. It is a community flagship in an
area which has very, very few local amenities. Yes, it is a good
building and that adds to the flagship quality, but it is the
pool and the therapy of the water in our local community which
Ms Shipley: I actually agree with you.
14. I do not. I used to be Vice-Chair of Arts
and Leisure on Hackney Council. I have just been listing the pools
which are within striking distance. There is the Lido at Hackney,
there is the Ironmonger Row Baths, the Hoxton Sports Centre, there
is the Michael Sobell Centre, the Holloway Baths, York Hall, the
old Golden Lane. There are many swimming pools within striking
distance of Haggerston.
(Ms Clark) The Lido has closed. The Britannia is one
of those leisure pools and you cannot use it for proper swimming.
It is also not suitable for a number of local people for a variety
of reasons. The other pools are some distance.
15. There is a brand new pool.
(Ms Clark) Clissold Park Pool is not yet open but
from some parts of Shoreditch that would require three buses to
reach and the cost of those buses.
16. It is within two miles; it is within a half-hour
(Ms Clark) Even if it is two miles, it is along very
busy roads and I think you will find that a family of four walking
there and then back is not something which is likely to happen.
17. As I understand it, you are talking about
£3.5 million being spent and that seems to me to be a considerable
amount of money, not a small amount of money, for baths which
were used by how many people every year?
(Ms Clark) The details are in the business plan which
you have all received. I could look it up but the critical issue
is that it was being run down anyway, it was not properly heated,
etc. It was being run down at the time those figures relate to.
I would also add that the cost of the swimming pool at Clissold
is £20 million. We are talking about £3.5 million which
is not just the pool, is also the local amenity and the healthy
living centre aspects which will match the swimming in importance.
18. I am sorry to be a bit obsessed about Haggerston.
Having swum in it many times and having used the gym there for
a couple of years, I can see the architectural merits of the building
and indeed it was used for several pop videos, was it not?
(Ms Clark) There is a lot of interest from the arts
point of view.
19. It probably earned more money from pop videos
than people swimming there. It is a genuine question: is it a
really good use of taxpayers' money or Lottery money, which is
taxpayers' money in a different guise, to fork out another £3.5
million for yet another building, when there are plenty of other
facilities for swimming in the area?
(Ms Clark) If you ask local people, and indeed the
Haggerston Pool Action Group which I am representing here has
had massive support from a whole range of local people, including
local schools, local facilities such as the mental health centre
I have referred to, they do see it as a unique resource. Yes,
there are other pools, there are other pools people could get
to. The whole point in a rundown community like Haggerston is
that it is one of the few assets they have. It is very well loved.
It had been run down and one of the questions is why had it been
run down over the years? It had been run down which meant it was
not promoted as much, it was not as user-friendly as it might
have been. Nonetheless the support from the local community shows
that it is a flagship project that people want. Our business plan
around the investmentand I believe you have had information
circulated about our proposal about integrating it into local
housing schemesshows it is a real runner as a community
resource to bring it back into the heart of the community.
5 See Appendix 38, p Ev 119. Back