Sale of historic Birley Spa Bath House stopped

Sheffield City Council have halted plans to sell off a historic Victorian bath house and committed to trying to find a solution with the community fighting to save it.

Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 10:37 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 4:11 pm
The Birley Spa Friends Group protesting about the possible auction of the Birley Spa Bath House last year...........Pic Steve Ellis

The proposals were put forward by councillor Paul Wood, cabinet member for neighbourhoods, on Monday night during a closed meeting between the Friends of Birley Spa, local councillors and one of The Star’s local democracy reporters.

Coun Wood told the group: “I’ve tried to look at this logically, I never wanted to sell the building, I want to make sure that building is still standing in 150 years time however we do it.

“My personal belief is the council should own it, it’s a community asset, it should be owned for the community by the people of Sheffield. But all our problems and disputes are down to repairs and what it’s going to cost and to run.

Friends of Birley Spa link arms around the former bath house earlier this year as they fight for the restoration and re-opening of Sheffields' only Victorian Plunge Pool in its own grounds.Picture: Marie Caley

“But we don’t know what the figure is we need, you don’t know what the figure is you need and without it we aren’t going anywhere really.”

He added that he would authorise an independent survey the following day to look into exactly what it would cost to repair and run, with the aim of getting the results as soon as possible to start work on it.

The council will pay for the survey. When the findings of the survey are revealed, everyone involved – including the community group and councillors – will put forward different plans to fund the repairs and they one will be chosen.

Coun Wood said one potential option would be to take out a loan and pay it back over a 35-year period through things like rent from the top floor.

The community’s hope is that the top floor of the building can be used by Karma Hub, a local business offering health and wellbeing treatment, leaving the ground floor and surrounding woodland for heritage tours and swimming.

Coun Wood said: “The ideal scenario is we get all the building repaired at once and make it safe and usable and certainly within that plan the community gets the total use of the historic site. We can’t make a decision on the upstairs part until we get some more figures.”

Councillors and the community group both agreed it would be difficult to raise the money but said it should be manageable, depending on what the results of the survey are.

Claire Allen, chair of the Friends of Birley Spa, said: “I think it’s a very sensible decision. I feel like everyone is finally talking the same language now.

“We’re not going away saying anything is saved or not saved but I feel like we’ve stopped fighting and stopped coming away thinking ‘what the hell is going on?’. The council are in a difficult position and we do understand that but we do believe Birley Spa could do a lot of good for a lot of people.”

Coun Bryan Lodge, representative for Birley ward, said: “I just think it’s a great way forward. Just to establish really what the costs are then we can determine what the best way to do it is.”

The 177-year-old Grade II-listed building is the last remaining Victorian bath house still set in its original grounds in South Yorkshire. The building is surrounded by lush woodland and a lake and has a natural spring running inside it.

It has been left derelict and unused for a number of years and there are concerns the building will fall down soon if repairs are not made urgently.

Last year the council put it up for auction, without public consultation, with a guide price of up to £100,000.

It was postponed for further talks with the community, which the Friends and Clive Betts MP campaigned for.

These were ongoing before the council last month decided to put it up for sale again.

Coun Wood said the new proposals mean there will not be a sale now and that this would only be a last resort.

Moving forwards, he said they needed to have the survey done and repairs started by the end of this year.