Update on Moseley Road baths and this weeks HG constituency meeting
Moseley Road baths has hit the headlines today in relation to a heated Hall Green Constituency meeting where I was called a “tw@t” by the prospective Labour Council candidate for Hall Green Ward, Barry Bowles. The meeting also included an announcement that the baths would not re-open until April or May. I will try to explain the background to all this in a bit.
For some background, my last blog update was on 23rd December and can be seen at http://martinmullaney.blogspot.com/2011/12/update-on-moseley-road-baths-23rd.html
First of all the final phase of re-opening the baths began on Monday 16th January with contractors moving into the basement to begin work. They will be replacing temporary scaffolding that holds up the floor in numerous places, with permanent scaffolding. This work will take four to five weeks to complete and we are hoping that the baths should be able to re- at the end of February.
What has confused the issue and the reason for the sudden announcement that the baths won’t re-open until April or May, is concern over flaking paint from the ceiling in Pool 2. Users of this pool prior to its closure in December 2010, will have noticed the flaking paint even then. It was particularly bad on the lower sections of the curved ceiling, on the right hand side as you entered the pool. The photo below shows the section I mean with big red arrows pointing at it.
The pool was last painted in 2003 and the flaking paint was due to the very high humidity in the pool area, which was caused by the staff not turning on the mechanical ventilation fans whilst people were in the pool. The staff wouldn’t turn the fans on, because they were very noisy due to worn bearings.
The bearings have now been replaced and hopefully such rapid flaking of the paint will not happen again.
Since the closure of the pool in December 2010 and the resulting dryer atmosphere, the paint flaking has accelerated to such an extent that officers in Hall Green constituency are concerned that flakes may fall into swimmers eyes. The staff in the pool have removed most of the flaking paint, but some still exists in the harder to reach parts of the ceiling.
To completely repaint the ceiling would cost £65,000 and take over six weeks to complete, thus taking the re-opening up until April or May. We have £80,000 ‘sticking plaster’ money which could fund this re-painting, however I would rather focus this money on fixing the roof of leaks – especially after all the recent lead thefts - and keep this building going until its big restoration in 2014.
Mindful that the pool has been closed for over a year and being quite familiar with the level of flaking, I have disputed the need to repaint the entire ceiling. As a result, I attended a meeting this morning with a Health and Safety officer to decide if the flaking paint was a concern. The officer said that the level of flaking is not of concern.
As a result of this, I have stressed to officers that the pool must re-open once the basement work is finished at the end of February. We will repaint the worse affected lower sections of the ceiling and this must be completed by the end of February. The rest of the £80,000 must be focused on the roof and again these roof works must not delay the re-opening of the pool at the end of February.
Coming to the Hall Green constituency meeting on Tuesday. Readers may or may not be aware that the day-to-day operation of Moseley Road baths is run by Hall Green Constituency. The Hall Green constituency committee have the final say on whether the pool remains open or not. Since May 2010, Hall Green constituency has had a Labour Party majority and is Chaired by Sparkbrook Ward Councillor, Councillor Tony Kennedy (Labour).
In recent months, I have become concerned about some of the messages I am hearing from Hall Green constituency office under this new political control. In October, I was informed that the Hall Green office was making enquiries as to whether my Cabinet portfolio would take the day-to-day control out of the constituency hands.
In early January, I was informed that an enquiry had been made from Hall Green office to my Cabinet officers, as to our views on not re-opening Moseley Road baths until after its partial restoration starting in 2014.
Then to discover last week that at the end of the agenda of the Hall Green constituency meeting for Tuesday 17th January was an item called ‘Moseley Road baths – Future Options’, then my alarm bells started ringing. Also, I know that the alarm bells were ringing with the Friends of Moseley Road baths.
As a result, even through the constituency meeting was held in the upstairs community room of Hall Green Library, there was still a large contingent of users of Moseley Road baths there.
The meeting began at 7pm and with Moseley Road baths being second last on the agenda, we eventually reached this item at 8.45pm. This only allowed 15 minutes for the remaining two items on the agenda, since the room was only booked till 9pm. As soon as we reach this item, the whole thing kicked off. Cllr Kennedy said the baths were "a financial burden". Cllr Quinnen (Labour, Sparkbrook) blamed both myself and the administration for not fully restoring the baths during the last seven years – I did point out that at the last constituency meeting she was complaining that we hadn’t spent £58million on a new Olympic pool in the city centre. In the midst of this Barry Bowles, Labour Party candidate for Hall Green Ward in the forthcoming Council elections shouted out that I was a "tw@t"....which resulted in the baths users shouting at him.
When it came to the vote for the ‘future options’ report, the Lib Dem side voted against, but asked for another vote on a slightly different motion, namely "support an Options Report, as long it looked at ways of keeping the building as a swimming baths and managed by the constituency". It was seconded by Cllr Hendricks.
Cllr Kennedy said he would not accept this motion.
I said if we could ask the audience to see if they would support this alternative motion. He responded by saying that he would not allow any further decision and moved the meeting onto the next item on the agenda. In the resulting uproar, Cllr Kennedy got the Labour group to agree to the next item straight away and ended the meeting.
The constituency officers will now be coming back in March with a set of options for the future of the baths.
In the meantime we are about to start work on the Heritage Lottery bid to restore the baths. Our proposal is to submit a HLF bid in April. The bid would be for phase 1 of the restoration, totalling £8million. The £8million will include the following:
• Making the entire building stable, by completely fixing the roof and stopping any more leaks; removing all the dry rot from the caretakers area. This will stop any further decay in the building.
• Pool 2 – the present pool will remain an operating pool
• Pool 1 – the ornate first class pool will be boarded over and used for community events. In phase 2 of the restoration we would aim to get this back as a swimming pool
• Possible installation of a Combined Heat and Power system, which would heat this building and all surrounding buildings.
Bidding for Heritage Lottery monies is a lengthy process and if successful, the earliest we could start on phase 1 of the restoration is 2014. It is estimated work would take two years to complete.