Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by English Heritage


  English Heritage welcomes the opportunity to submit a memorandum to the Committee's inquiry into the sport of swimming. Because of our statutory remit, our comments are necessarily restricted to England.

  English Heritage is the Government's lead body for the historic environment in England. Our work includes:

    —  advancing understanding of the historic environment through survey and research;

    —  giving £34 million a year in grants to historic buildings, sites, parks and gardens and archaeological projects;

    —  advising on approximately 18,000 planning and consent cases affecting the historic environment each year;

    —  managing 409 historic properties on behalf of the nation, and presenting them to over 11 million visitors every year; and

    —  enabling and encouraging people from all walks of life to discover and enjoy their heritage.


  The recent report, Realising the Potential of Cultural Services[1], commissioned by 12 national bodies concluded that sports make an enormous contribution to our quality of life, improving health, reducing crime rates, developing young people and providing a social focus for communities. Swimming is one of the UK's major sports. Surveys consistently show it to be in the nation's most popular indoor sport. A lifelong activity, swimming is suitable for all ages and abilities. It is regularly enjoyed by 40 per cent of adults and 50 per cent of young people and is most popular amongst women and girls, a group that is traditionally under-represented in sport.

  England's public swimming pools are therefore a vital recreational and community resource. Those pools that occupy historic buildings represent an additional asset—a nationally important aspect of our civic heritage.

  The Historic Environment Review led by English Heritage in 2000 demonstrated the basic popular support that exists for historic buildings. A MORI poll into public attitudes towards the historic environment showed that:

    —  87 per cent of people think that the historic environment plays an important part in the cultural life of the country;

    —  85 per cent think that it is important in promoting regeneration in towns and cities; and

    —  77 per cent disagree that we preserve too much[2].

  Bringing character and community identity, as well as much needed facilities, to often deprived urban areas, historic swimming pools are a prime example of the ordinary, working heritage that people most understand and value. Alongside urban parks. libraries, galleries, and other public buildings and spaces, historic swimming baths have an important part to play in the creation of distinctive, civilised and "liveable" cities.


  Across the country there are some 79 swimming pools and pool buildings no longer in their original use which have been statutorily listed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport as buildings of special architectural or historic interest. The breakdown across England's nine regions is as follows:

West Midlands
East of England
East Midlands

  A schedule of these listed swimming pools and pool buildings is attached at Annex 1. Of these, seven are listed at grade II* and the remaining 72 are listed at grade II.

  English Heritage does not keep records of the use and condition of these listed buildings, except in those cases where we have been involved in applications for grant assistance, where we have been consulted on applications for listed building consent or planning permission, or where we have included the building on our Register of Buildings at Risk. Details of those pool buildings included on our Register of Buildings at Risk are set out in Annex 2.

  In considering the details provided in Annex 2, it must be borne in mind that outside of Greater London, only those very few pools listed at II* in poor condition are included. The majority of those pools listed at grade II in poor condition will not be included.


  Whilst the value and potential of historic swimming pools is clear, the issues surrounding their maintenance and operation can be complex and challenging. Local authorities most often close historic pools as a result of cost-cutting, alleging that the costs of repair, maintenance and operation are unsustainable. Alternatively, they argue that historic pools no longer meet current public leisure needs. It is not unusual for historic baths to contain a single rectangular swimming pool, causing inevitable conflict between lane-swimmers, leisure swimmers and divers. They may also lack specific facilities for children in the form of slides and wave-machines, or "health" and ancillary facilities such as jacuzzis, gymnasia and/or cafes (although areas occupied by former "slipper" baths often offer scope for conversion).

  Despite these problems, hundreds of historic baths remain in popular use and there are examples of successful refurbishment schemes at the Jubilee Pool in Penzance, Saltdean Lido in Brighton and The Pools in the Park in Richmond, where the local authority was persuaded to abandon proposals for demolition of an award-winning 1960s pools complex and to pursue instead a conservation-based scheme with a private sector partner. It is hoped that a similar approach might lead to the re-opening of the Uxbridge Lido in West London.


  In accordance with the relevant formal advice of central Government set out in Planning Policy Guidance: Planning and the historic environment (PPG15), English Heritage works with building owners and local planning authorities to encourage coherent and effective action to repair listed buildings in poor condition and to bring them back into appropriate use. Our work is particularly focused on buildings that are most vulnerable as a result of being unused or under-used.

  Outside London, our work is primarily directed towards individual buildings listed at grade I or II*, and to those grade II listed buildings where repair and re-use would contribute to conservation-based regeneration. Within Greater \London, our work embraces listed buildings of all grades, although our priorities tend to follow those of the rest of the country.

  English Heritage is committed to helping owners of historic pools with advice, support and funding where it can, drawing on our long-established secular grants scheme for grade I and II* listed buildings and on our London Grants Scheme for grade II listed buildings at risk in Greater London. At Victoria Baths in Manchester, we recently offered a grant of £150,000 towards emergency repairs while proposals for future use are developed in detail and a financial package to support them is put in place. A more typical, and much less satisfactory, situation exists at the grade II listed Marshall Street pools complex in Soho, Westminster. Dating from 1928-31, Marshall Street served the needs of the local residential and working communities until its sudden and premature closure by Westminster City Council's Leisure Services Department in 1997 on the grounds of alleged costs of repair and maintenance. The pool has remained closed despite substantial local concern and the exploration of various joint development options with the private sector, to which English Heritage has contributed positive advice. At the last meeting with Council officers in May, undesirable conversion options were put forward, all of which involved a significant reduction of public sports use and the introduction of other uses including library use, which, it is assumed, would result from the prospective disposal of an existing council-owned library within the area.


  Collectively historic swimming pools represent a community resource and national heritage asset of enormous value. Like other civic buildings and spaces, swimming pools are an integral part of civilised and "liveable" cities and yet these historic buildings form part of a broad picture of historic community facilities under threat. Public Park Assessment[3], a report jointly published by English Heritage and others in May 2001 demonstrates the serious decline of England's urban parks resulting from years of under-investment. The report found that, like swimming pools, parks of historic interest have disproportionately suffered from local authority spending cuts, resulting in widespread loss of features. Coincidentally, amongst the most threatened features were paddling pools, with 56.6 per cent of pools in historic parks already lost.

  Once closed and un-used, historic swimming pools are particularly vulnerable. They require commitment on the part of local authorities, determined partnership working and imaginative and often complex solutions if their futures either as upgraded swimming facilities or in alternative use are to be secured. English Heritage is committed to helping where it can, but is substantially constrained by limited funding available and by its primary focus on the repair of grades I and II* listed secular buildings.

1   Realising the Potential of Cultural Services (November 2001), Local Government Association, Arts Council et al. Back

2   MORI research published in Power of Place (December 2000), the report of the Historic Environment Review. Back

3   Public Park Assessment, A survey of local authority owned parks focusing on parks of historic interest (May 2001), Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Heritage Lottery Fund, Countryside Agency and English Heritage. Back

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