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POOLING RESOURCES AT MOSELEY ROAD BATHS

06-01-2007

The campaign to save Balsall Heath's Moseley Road Swimming Baths earned the contempt or Laurence Inman on The Stirrer this week. He accused those behind the rescue plan as "middle class tossers". Was he just swimming against the tide? Steve Beauchampé reckons so....

Well, our kids are getting fatter, people are driving longer distances to undertake activities that they used to do locally and regeneration money in Birmingham has generally eluded areas such as Balsall Heath. So Lawrence
Inman suggests that we close the local swimming baths!

Architecturally...yes, as I pointed out in my article on this website last November, the library is probably the more attractive building, externally at least.

But on the inside? Sorry, but internally it can't hold a candle to the baths, the work of an architect Inman derides (I won't go over the baths qualities again, these comments are available via The Stirrer archive) and the product of numerous local craftsmen, many of whose skills we no longer appear to value.

More importantly than my own aethestic sensiblities, Moseley Road baths perform an essential social function, used by a wide cross-section of the local community, including a Muslim Women's Group with very specific bathing requirements, numerous school groups, pensioners groups, disabled groups, Moseley Shoals, (a gay swimming club), and even the middle classes Mr. Inman so despises (but hey, it's a democracy and I'm sure that they pay their taxes too).

Oh, and as for Moseley's individual slipper baths, the staff are regularly asked by those backbones of the middle class - vagrants, asylum seekers, people living in hostel accommodation or those experiencing overcrowded housing conditions - whether the private baths are still open (which sadly they are not).

Close Moseley Rd and either you knock the building down or convert it - either option will cost a degree of public money. And that's even before you count the cost of a replacement, and a new public pool will cost every bit as much as is needed to restore the current building.

Yet history shows us that post-war pools generally have even less of a shelf life than their inter-war and Edwardian counterparts (the 1965 Tudor Grange baths in Solihull will be gone within 18 months, Coventry's 50 metre pool is not long for this world, while many 1970s/80s leisure centre pools need serious investment over the next decade if they are to remain viable). What guarantee do we have that modern pools will be any more longlasting?

Birmingham is currently fixated on building a 50 metre pool of its own, possibly in a joint development with Aston University, as part of it's push to secure a major country to train in the city ahead of the 2012 Olympics. Great in theory. Yet sadly, as Manchester's citizens found when their city opened a 50 metre pool for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the cost was the closure of several smaller community pools with the result that many swimmers now travel longer distances (with all of the time and cost implications and environmental damage this involves, as well as the fact that a 50 metre pool may not be suitable for less experienced swimmers).

What Birmingham needs is serious investment to maintain and enhance it's network of local pools. And from a city which has treated so much of it's architectural history with contempt, I make no apology for supporting not only the retention of the architectural gem that is Moseley Road, but hope that new uses can be found for the other beautiful public buildings, such as the School of Art and Friend's Institute, which grace that stretch of Moseley Road.

You reap what you sow, and if Birmingham is still largely derided for the perceived shortcomings of it's built environment, then much of the blame is self-inflicted.

Oh, and Lawrence, I don't mean to get your blood pressure up any higher, but you may wish to know that a group is currently being formed to save Birmingham Central Library from demolition...and that building isn't even half way to being 70 years old!

Read Laurence Inman's article here. And tell us what you think. Are the people who want to save Moseley Road Baths middle class tossers? Or are they doing something positve for their community? Leave a comment on the messageboard.

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