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In Birmingham City Council’s budget consultation for 2014 it was announced that Northfield swimming baths will close by 2017. There’s been some conflicting information flying around and the issue has turned into a bit of a political point scoring match, so we thought it might be helpful to examine what we know so far.

The council and local Labour councillors and MP are touting this as a positive move, with plans to build a new leisure centre with pool somewhere within Northfield District. The plan is to find a private leisure company to run the new centre which will be publicly owned.

These plans are in the very early stages and discussions are ongoing – it is envisioned that the new centre should open in 2017. No site has been identified as yet – BCC say it will either be on the existing site or elsewhere in Northfield District.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Conservative councillors and prospective parliamentary candidate Rachel Maclean are up in arms. Unfortunately, they seem to be focusing on some, but not all, of the facts and people are alarmed and confused!

In a letter to the Bromsgrove Standard, Rachel Maclean writes: “Labour-run Birmingham City Council has recently confirmed our local swimming pool in Northfield is to close in two or three years time, even though it has been recently refurbished, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

And she suggests Northfield residents will have to travel to the new pool at the University of Birmingham to swim saying: “This is much further to travel for Northfield residents, and is in no way an adequate replacement.” [Full letter Page 11]

And at a public meeting on District budget proposals last week in Longbridge, Cllr Reg Corns (Con, Northfield) angrily challenged Labour councillors present about the pool closing and people having to use the University pool, before storming out of the meeting without waiting for a reply.

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So, what are the facts surrounding the plans to close the pool? Will closing the old centre and building a new one be a good or bad move? Will we ever have to travel all the way to the Uni just for a dip?!

The cuts:

  • Council leader Sir Albert Bore says that, this year, around £120 million savings will have to be made if the council is to meet the expected £825m shortfall in funds from central government estimated between 2011-17 [based on estimated amounts of funding received form central government & increased demand and costs]. You can download a PDF file of the budget proposals in full
  • As part of a citywide plan, several pools and local leisure facilities (eg Colmers) will close and be replaced by  a total of 6 new leisure centres. Based on a similar model to the newly refurbished Harborne.  The centres will be built using capital funding loans which income from the centres to BCC will repay. There will be no capital outlay by the council. 5 existing leisure centres across the city will also remain.

Previous refurbishment:

  • £3 million was spent on refurbishing the baths in 2003
  • Funding came from Section 106 money from Northfield Sainsbury’s – section 106 funds are agreed between developers and the council when planning permission is granted for new developments. They are mostly used to benefit public infrastructure.
  • We are led to believe that previous refurbishment was expected to have a life of around 15 years – which means the pool would be due for further extensive work in 2018.

New facility:

  • The management of the centres would be put out to tender. They would be managed privately on behalf of the council.
  • Where would it be? This has not been confirmed yet – could be on current site if existing building demolished (but the future of the builiding is another issue!) or somewhere else within Northfield District. BCC are still considering options.
  • Would it cost more for users? The new facility must provide services at a cost inline with existing facilities in the city and offer the Be Active programme
  • Would facilities improve? Again, since no actual proposals have been made yet it is impossible to know exactly what facilities would be on offer, but a pool must be included.
  • At the district budget consultation meeting at the Factory last Wednesday, Labour councillors were adamant that there would be no loss of service, with Northfield pool remaining open until a new facility was in place (barring any unforeseen breakdown).

History of building

  • Northfield baths opened on 8th May 1937 and were the first in Birmingham to be built solely for the purpose of recreation.
  • The building was designed by Henry Simister for the Birmingham Baths Committee. There were two pools, as there are now, with a large cafe overlooking.
  • The fitness suite was added in the 1980s.
  • The refurbishment in 2003 was the last major spend on the building.
  • Situated opposite the Black Horse on Bristol Road South, the building is considered a local landmark.

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So there are the facts. Where does this leave us?

Birmingham City Council are closing baths in the city, including Northfield and Tiverton Road in Selly Oak, because they simply can not afford to pay for them any more. This was identified as a problem by the previous council administration (Con), who had to make the first wave of cuts to funding expected by central government during their last years in charge of the council.

However, no-one of any political persuasion wants to see an end to this service. That is why the then Conservative council administration identified a model for saving a public service, privately run and implemented it in Harborne which reopened in 2012 following a £12 million refurbishment. The Harborne pool and leisure centre is now run by DC Leisure. The current Labour administration aim to take the plan forward, opening a total of six new centres with pools across the city.

Unfortunately, since discussions are at such an early stage, it’s impossible for us to envisage whether the new centre will offer an improvement in service. The idea of a shiny new leisure centre and pool sounds like a good one to me, but there are many questions that no-one can answer yet. Where exactly will it be?  Who will run it?  Will it be better? etc.

Northfield District Conservatives are really using this issue to rouse public support, suggesting to local residents that they will have to travel to the University to swim. This is misleading, as Labour councillors have committed to no loss of service between Northfield Baths closing and the new facility within the district opening.

A petition against the closure has been posted on the council’s e-petitions site, by residents who want the baths to remain where they are.

And the future of the building itself is another issue – if the new leisure centre is built on a different site, can the landmark building be saved and utilised as something else? At the Birmingham City Council meeting on 7th January this year, council leader Sir Albert Bore mentioned demolishing the existing baths and rebuilding on site as an option but it seems that an alternative site is the council’s preferred option.

There are still a couple of District budget proposal meetings to go if you want to question councillors or council officers more on this (or other budget issues!)

So, what do you think? Is closing Northfield baths and the opening of a new, privately run, publicly owned leisure facility in the district a good idea or a bad one?

27 COMMENTS

  1. Quite simply, we’re living in an age where everybody wants the best health care, best education, best policing, best environmental policies, the best social services, the best military, the best roads and railways and, of course, the best Arts and Leisure facilities – all of which we want provided by our local & national governments.

    Quite simply, most of the population expects all this but is not prepared to pay any more for it whether the funding is collected by Council Taxes, Income Taxes, National Insurance or VAT.

    Quite simply, the political parties of all persuasions are scared to tell the public that if it wants to live a 21st Century Lifestyle with 21st Century Standards, we have to start paying for it.

    Quite simply, the alternative option is to follow the American (US) lead and allow the government, at all levels, to provide the basics, and let their friends in Private Enterprise provide the rest – at a price and at a profit. If there is no profit, the service disappears completely.

    All this is just the thin end of the wedge, and local councils up and down the country are being forced into decisions like this because of national government policies.

  2. Considering we are all being encouraged to get fit and lose weight, the loss of such a facility for those wishing to engage in a healthy lifestyle or just generally have fun, would be a terrible shame. In my opinion, once a facility is lost, it very rarely gets replaced and for the residents of the surrounding area this would be a great loss. Why is it that others areas of the city get brand new, all singing all dancing facilites and this side of the city gets nothing. If the plan is to build a new facility, there is still plenty of land on the Rover site that could be put to better use.

  3. Whats is wrong with the fairly recently refurbished baths and leisure facility as it is now. The council keep whinging about having no money, putting up our council tax, cutting childrens and vulnerable peoples services but it can waste money (in addition to the grant) on wheelie bins that few want and replacing a perfectly good leisure facility. Its disgraceful and utterly wasteful.

  4. aladdin the council says its refurbishment is due in 2018…i guess the life of pumps/boilers/dosing systems etc is only 15 yrs in a pool.Also its ahrd to beleive that these days the building is very efficient v heating costs. so i guess do nothing is not an option.

  5. I was taught to swim at these baths as a kid in the 90’s. I’ll be sorry to see them go, but looking at it practically this building is almost 80 years old.
    Financially I can’t see how it’s viable to throw money on another refurbishment to take it to its near 100th Birthday.
    I attended the Northfield budget meeting, and members of the public referred to the refurb as ‘ a couple of years ago’, when we know in reality it was more like 11.
    A new facility without the need for refurbishments in the foreseeable future, and most likely more fuel and energy efficient must be a no brainer from the start, compared to the current situation the Council is facing.
    If its going to be a new facility Great !,
    I’ve travelled to the facilities at Harborne and Kings Heath in preference to Northfield in the past, and I’ll happily admit this.
    It brings me on to another point from the Northfield Budget Meeting…
    Concerns were raised over the location of the new Pool and the increase in travel costs for pensioners, asked by a pensioner herself. At which point a gentlemen next to me whipped out his free bus pass and asked what increase in travel costs ?.
    I’d like to pick up on Alladins view re the wheelie bins, forgetting any addition that is on top of the grant, that grant by Central Government was ring fenced for waste services only.
    Whether people want them or not is another question, I feel it’s more into making people morally responsible in reducing the huge and quite frankly shameful amounts of rubbish we send to landfill as a city each year.
    Birmingham as a city should be a leader in recycling with the use of wheelie bins being seen by to the rest of the country how great we can do it with Brummie Spirit !.
    I cannot vouch for adult Services, will have to with Cabinet Member, and I WILL respond, but I’m sure Child Services are protected from any cuts. Again I’m more than happy to check with Cabinet Member.

  6. Agreed that a time will come to replace in part or entirely, but the refurb was to last 20 years not 15…which in any case would leave the community without a baths for a while until a new one is built…especially if its on the same site…but they won’t say yet. Its not just pensioners that use the baths…meaning potentially more transports costs even to disabled with charges brought in for ring and ride. Can we trust them to keep their word anyway…they promised to save Moseley Rd baths.
    Childrens homes shut, adult care downgraded and neighbourhood offices, libraries and play centres face decimation…but replace perfectly good facilities at Northfield. Hope your right about the childrens cuts though.
    The council are happy to tell everyone that wheelie bin money is all grant…ask them how much its really costing…from the council coffers and borrowed on top of that grant…my guess around £30m but still cutting jobs and services…out of order in my opinion.
    Dont get me wrong, i would love a new baths…but now, really.

  7. Does anybody know the actual visiting figures for these baths?

    I hope the current building isn’t demolished as we have lost so many great old buildings in this city – you only need to look at ‘brumpic’ on twitter to see this.

    In my opinion a new facility in Longbridge would be the best option as it remains local and would be a new future proof facility.

    The question remains then about what happens to the current building. Demolishing it to make way for more ‘affordable’ housing probably which would be a shame. But on the other hand you do not want to be left with an empty rotting eyesore like the dudley Hippodrome.

    You will never please everyone, and typically councillors will argue against each other, but at least there are plans to keep a leisure facility one bus journey away at most.

  8. if the baths go to longbridge or at least not in northfield centre then that will be the death knell for northfield i think…unless you like betting shops, and banks, why would you go there when longbridge can offer so much more?
    one issue if the baths/gym go to longbrdige how will local schools get on getting there for the children??

  9. You have to wonder why the Tories are making up stories regarding this issue. The fact is that Northfield is going to benefit from the most significant investment in leisure in over a generation.

    It is extremely misleading and unhelpful to scaremonger stories that residents will have to use the new facility at the university. The aim of the new centre is to provide a facility within Northfield District that is not only fit for purpose, but will be sustainable for generations to come, not the short sighted sticking plaster that the Tories delivered previously.

    It is extremely hypocritical of Conservative Councillors to campaign against a new facility, especially after the same model was used in Harborne under their administration. Typical of the double standards that we have come to expect. Further to this, we have the Conservative PPC jumping on the band wagon, with stories of the new facility being built somehow outside of the district.

    We have learnt from the mistakes of the previous administration that if a facility is to be replaced, the old one needs to remain in use until the new one is ready, unlike in Harborne where people were deprived of their pool for a very long time.

    Northfield doen’t only need a new facility (and I should know as a user of the service with my wife and daughter), but the residents of Northfield deserve a new facility. Maybe it is a case that the Tories somehow feel that Harborne was more deserving and that Northfield should make do.

    The cynic in me would suggest that as the Tories lack any credible policy for Birmingham, that they will continue to spread lies and scaremonger about the future of services in Northfield.

    The message from me as a Northfield Ward Council is simple: Stop making things up, stop scaremongering, and stop misleading the people of Northfield, and start behaving in a responsible manner and contributing to the discussion on how best to deliver the service in Northfield.

    With the discussion around location and extra provision still ongoing, we could actually work cross party to deliver a new and exciting facility for Northfield. I suspect however that devoid of any real policy, the Tories will continue to scaremonger, and in doing so hope that the citizens of our community will be duped into thinking that they actually care about the services on which the majority of us rely.

    I would personally welcome any comments and contributions from members of the public to:

    brett.o’reilly@birmingham.gov.uk

    Furthermore, please feel free to contact if you would be interested in the facts, rather than the political posturing that has unfortunately blighted this most positive investment in Northfield’s Leisure provision.

  10. The baths should be on the site they are now…how will they be built on that site without closing the ones there now…how much will they cost…where is the money coming from.
    Why replace the baths when the others are fit until 2023…why are people losing jobs in the council to replace good facilities.
    Why did the council break its ‘promise’ to keep Moseley Rd baths open.
    Why are the council borrowing millions on top of the grant to put new wheelie bins in the city.
    why are flower boxes being put in ridiculous places around the city.
    Why are people losing jobs and vulnerable people young and old suffering if the council can afford new baths bins and flowerpots.
    Northfield (and the rest of the city) is falling apart at the seams…rubbish everywhere and so they start charging for bulk collections and garden waste, disgraceful road and pavement condition…parking enforcement is frankly a waste of time but then the council dont put up proper signs to bus lanes and fine people for their inadequacy….i could go on about ring and ride etc etc….
    Never mind worrying about tory policy….get your own house in order. The people of Northfield are being let down by the council and a councillor comes on here talking about tories….who cares about tories, its labour who are supposed to be running the show…instead all we get is a sideshow…its shameful.

  11. Tipical council thinking, If it ain’t broke Fix it till it is.

    Why waste money on demolition & rebuilding when you could
    spend less on refurbishment useing same site & building and
    SAVE MONEY.

    • We need a new swimming pool face the facts Northfield baths are to old been unsafe not child safe messy lockers are the pits.
      We need pool thats modern clean child friendly and with more family changing rooms with doors that you can lock warm shower areas.
      Please build a new one that for all the Northfield district and the young and old. We can not keep on just painting over the cracks and filling in the holes lets have a modern one thats the way forward.
      When i worked in the child care system these baths did not come up to standed and our company said they were not child freindly.
      When the new pool at Birmingham uni is built we will need a baths that keeps the people who love to swim in the Northfield area.

  12. The council say they cant afford to run the services now but they can get the money to build new baths…perhaps its coming out of the sale of the NEC…another disgrace the council kep’t quiet until after the budget farce.

  13. I find the tone of this piece is politically biased, that to one side:-
    The facilities and staff in Northfield are very good, both my wife and myself pay for gym/swim membership (but don’t use it as often as we should). Having to travel to the university to use facilities is not the end of the world.
    Whatever new (if any) facilities provided in Northfield they would have to be financially sustainable, in Redditch they have a pool that is heated from wasted energy from the crematorium perhaps it could be lodge hill leisure centre.

    • i dont find it biased. i thought it put the facts for both parties very well.
      i presume you are joking when you suggest lodge hill.

  14. Northfield baths to old run down not child freindly or safe lockers to small no family rooms messey.
    Bring on a new one some where in Northfield district weoley Longbridge they hsave loads of space the rover factory was so large and its easy to get to by car train walk.
    Also a new one will be clean up to standard and still can be used by schools ect……
    Lets also take the residents of Frankley into cosideration they always feel left out but they are part of Northfield district as well.
    So for me its bring on the new baths but turn old baths into Heratage centre for all to use but please dont keep spending money on it to give it a few more years life a new one for the future now thats what we want so the next generation can have a safe child freindly baths with all the mod cons how good is that.
    Bono vox

  15. So there are the facts. Where does this leave us?

    Birmingham City Council are closing baths in the city, including Northfield and Tiverton Road in Selly Oak, because they simply can not afford to pay for them any more. This was identified as a problem by the previous council administration (Con), who had to make the first wave of cuts to funding expected by central government during their last years in charge of the council.

    Funding cuts, from ?, sorry where ?.

    Just a reminder …

  16. Yet again Northfield is being sold short. We are being asked to voice our opinions on the fate of the swimming baths but we all know that public opinion is very rarely listened to. We were asked our opinions on local bus services then got crapped on from a great height. We were told that a new road was needed to relieve traffic conditions on Northfield high street but the situation is getting worse. The number of empty shops on the high street is increasing but all we seem to end up with is a proliferation of fast food outlets when what is really needed is a quality butcher/greengrocer to counter the monopoly of the supermarkets. It is good that the high street reflects the diversity of the local population and I welcome the choices that that diversity offers, if we lose the swimming baths because of the council taking a short sighted view of the local situation then I fear for the future of our high street as a whole. Perhaps we should be emailing the councillors of Weoley, Northfield and Longbridge wards to make sure they are all behind the efforts to save the baths from the clutches of private developers.

  17. Council cutting services, selling off the NEC and leaving the streets piled with rubbish…but can afford millions on wheelie bins and swimming baths. Council is a sham.

  18. Its would have been much better to be building not just a swimming pool and fitness gym but an all purpose facility for the whole of the people in the northfield district which also included a dry side sports hall so the people who prefer other sctivities can still do so . Instead of closing all the leisure centres this side of the city.

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