Response from Andrew Hardie

Just as an update to our request for candidates in the local elections to send responses, we did in fact receive a handwritten letter from Andrew Hardie, the Conservative Candidate, a day after the election.  As with some of the other responses, it was supportive of the facility, he has memories of swimming at the Baths, and he would like to ‘preserve, and indeed, widen its use after discussion with the Council, local GPs and schools.’  Unfortunately he fails to answer several of the questions we put to him.

As an aside – if candidates do want their views known, it would be preferable to receive replies in a format that we could easily pop online, and in plenty of time before the election.  Just sayin’.

Investigating Leisure Trusts

It appears that many councillors and council officers within Birmingham City Council are keen to transfer leisure services within Birmingham, including all swimming pools into a ‘Leisure Trust’.  They are expected to vote on this in the coming months.

A Leisure Trust is essentially an independent body which will take the responsibility for providing the services that the council currently has a statutory duty to provide.  Many councils currently use this model (including neighbouring Sandwell).  Many reasons are cited for this, not least the ability to raise more funds that are currently unavailable to local authorities.

Andrew Brightwell has been doing some sterling investigative journalism over the past few months to find out why councils are so keen to pass responsibility over to Leisure Trusts, and whether the assumptions made about them are correct.  I really recommend having a read through his blog, Where Can We Swim? which has loads of well researched facts and figures, many specific to Birmingham.  His most recent post, Investigating Leisure Trusts: The real work starts now!! summarises just some of his research and calls on all of us to scrutinise the process that our local councillors and council officers are working on behind the scenes.

Friends of Moseley Road Baths have major misgivings about transferring services to a Trust.  These include the need to protect staff pay and conditions (one of the most valuable assets in any public service), maintain and improve standards, sensitively protect the fabric of the building and to commit to accessibility for all.

We also have concerns about the nature of any body taking over services.  Will they, for instance, invest any profits back into the service, can they be accountable and responsive to service users (whose taxes still pay for the service) and will we be able to put them under the same level of scrutiny as any other public body?  At the present time such trusts are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act – an anomaly that MP Tom Brake is trying to address.

So, what are your thoughts?  Is Councillor Mullaney presenting us with a quick fix which is too good to be true, or is the ‘Big Society’ vision of devolving power to trusts and community groups a sustainable, successful model for swimming pools that we should aspire to?  What questions should Friends of Moseley Road Baths be asking of the Council.  Is it maybe the case that this model could work for other pools, but not for a Grade II* listed building?  Oh, and please, please, take time to have a look at Andy’s site and leave your comments and questions!

Potential for Energy and Water Savings at Moseley Road Baths

I’m happy to share this article which has been compiled by John Newson from Balsall Heath is Our Planet….

BHIOP is an alliance of organisations and individuals in Balsall Heath, whose aim is to cut the neighbourhood’s carbon dioxide emissions. Our Action Plan identifies Moseley Road Baths as a site of importance for achieving carbon reductions.


Moseley Road Baths has the potential to incorporate new technologies in any new refurbishment, with major energy and water savings in its operation. These would produce proportional savings in the running costs of the baths and so assist their financial viability in the long term. 19th century architecture can be saved by modern technology.

1. Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

The Baths currently buy in mains gas and electricity. These are major elements in its running costs. The gas boiler is out of date, inefficient and takes up a lot of space.

In the future, there could be a Combined Heat and Power plant that burns gas on site to make steam, which in turn generates electricity. The waste product would be warm water, which can be used to heat the baths and the building. Swimming baths suit CHP plants well, because they require warm water in both summer and winter. By contrast, the current CHP scheme in the Birmingham city centre/Broad St area will be producing warm water in summer when there is almost no demand for space heating. One of these CHP plants is at Aston University whose campus includes the historic Woodcock Street Baths. The parallel with Balsall Heath should be obvious.

A CHP plant at Moseley Road Baths could meet the onsite need for electricity. Any surplus can be sold to the national grid, i.e. the baths would be a power station.

A report produced in 2008 by Utilicom for the City Council’s Urban Design section concluded that a 70 kw gas-fired CHP plant installed in the Mosley Road Baths, in place of the existing boiler would be technically and economically justified. It would produce electricity for the building at 80% efficiency because the waste heat could be used by the Baths for space heating and hot water. The carbon saving would be 140 tons of C02 per year. It would replace 30% of the heat used by the baths. Electricity generated would be 455 Mwh, or 88% of the current usage of the Baths and Library. If the electricity supply could be linked to the next door Health Centre, then its electricity use would justify a larger CHP plant (100 kw or 40% more output) with a further reduction to the heating cost of the Baths.

The position has been transformed by the announcement (July 2010) by the new Coalition government that local authorities can henceforth sell electricity to the national grid and keep the receipts. The whole area could benefit from locally- produced electricity from the Baths, while receipts would offset the cost of running the baths.

An even more ambitious idea would be to site one of a ring of planned CHP plants for Birmingham in or near the baths. These CHP plants are a crucial part of Birmingham’s ‘Climate Change Action Plan’ (March 2010) that aims to reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2025. One possibility suggested by Aston University is to fire such a CHP network from gas derived from wastes

2. Water Supply

The Baths were originally provided with their own on-site water supply, in the form of a deep 750 foot bore hole into the water bearing strata below. When this was discontinued, the drinking water supply was unmetered, so zero cost. Today, mains water is metered and has become a significant cost item. Tests have apparently shown the water to have traces of heavy metals – hardly surprising when it has lain stagnant in the pipes for decades. If pumped out, we would surely come to pure water from the deep strata as before. Water for swimming in does not need to be treated to drinking quality – this is wasteful.

The water table under Birmingham is rising, due to the closure of manufacturing industries that used to pump water out and discharge it into rivers. Pumping from the borehole under the baths may even help prevent future flooding, as well as leaving water in Severn Trent’s reservoirs for drinking purposes.

3. Chlorine

Chlorine has a major factor in corroding metal work and masonry, which is very expensive to rectify in a historic building. Fortunately, it is no longer necessary to use chlorine in public baths. Past rates of corrosion of the building should not be taken as continuing into the future,

Discontinuing chlorine would prevent pollution from the waste water into the public drains. It would improve air quality in the baths. This means that less ventilation would be needed, so admitting less cold air in winter.

There seems to be evidence that chlorine is associated with childhood asthma and hay fever. Given the great increase in asthma levels noted by children’s services in Balsall Heath, the alternative disinfectant, copper-silver should be used in future. This chlorine free environment could be important selling point in attracting users to the baths.


‘Chlorine Inhalation Toxicity From Vapors Generated by Swimming Pool Chlorinator Tablets’ by Brian R. Wood MD1, John L. Colombo MD1, and Blaine E. Benson. ‘PEDIATRICS’ Vol. 79 No. 3 March 1987, pp. 427-430


The Guardian put out a request for readers’ photos on the theme ‘derelict’ last week. The result was a collection of some of the most heartbreaking pictures of buildings which are a shadow of their former glory.

Amongst the pictures was a photo from Emma Jones (editorialgirl) of the Gala Pool at Moseley Road Baths which you can view on the Guardian’s site.  The article incorrectly describes the swimming pool as abandoned (there is another fully functioning pool on site), but it’s not difficult to see why they drew that conclusion.  I’m not sure how I feel about it: the pool is absolutely gorgeous, even in its present state, and I think that the more publicity the building has the better, but it’s absolutely shameful that such a building remains in the ownership of Birmingham City Council in such a state.  I feel embarrassed that my local pool should so frequently be on ‘most endangered’ and ‘most neglected’ lists, but it seems that our local politicians share no such concern.  Their silence over the past few months has been deafening.

The current state of play is that we have been presented with some three year old figures for the full refurbishment of the Gala Pool (estimated cost, £9m), but it has been made clear that this possible work is tied in with the future of Sparkhill Baths, which will be rebuilt on the current site.  Whilst that is decided Moseley Road Baths is in a continuing state of decline, with urgent work required to make the building watertight.  We took the volunteers from our Pool of Memories Project around the building a few weeks ago (more on that later!), and we were all shocked at just how bad the first floor flat is looking.

So, if you share our despair, think about dropping some of the local councillors a line and asking them what they plan to do in the immediate future to preserve Moseley Road Baths. – Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture

Sparkbrook Councillors

Better still, consider attending one of their Advice Surgeries.  Let us know how you get on!

Mini history lessons

I’ve just come from a stall in Balsall Heath Library where we spent about half an hour talking with a group of young girls (amongst others) about Moseley Road Baths. To me, that chat really illustrated the importance of our Pool of Memories project.

Almost all of the girls attend Heath Mount Primary School, one of the schools still able to swim at the pool regularly. It’s clear that they love the building, and they all spoke animatedly about it. They were also all curious – about where the stairs lead to, about why the Gala Pool is closed, and why people used to have baths there.

We looked through the pictures in the excellent ‘Great Lengths’ book at pools around the country, and the conversation veered from pools in London and Sharm-el-Sheik to the Victorians and the Second World War.

The fact is that Moseley Road Baths gets people excited. It may be its beauty, it may be a particular memory, or it may be just one of the many stories of events that have happened within its walls. Today was one of those days when I feel immensely proud of this gem that sits on my doorstep, and excited by the curiosity that people of all ages have about the building.  If that’s not what ‘civic pride’ is about I don’t know what is…