Sefton Council have this week published a report on essential maintenance work required at the Victoria Baths on Southport’s Promenade.
The report notes that:
“Victoria Baths is a Grade 2 listed building and the Council has a statutory duty to ensure it is kept in a reasonable state of repair.”
However, the report notes that whilst part of the premises had been let to a private operator as a fitness club, the Council retained a large portion of the building and that it had been vacant for been vacant for over 15 years and is deteriorating.
Building condition surveys of the entire complex were commissioned in 2015 and again in 2019. These surveys identified that major repairs were urgently required to the external building fabric at an estimated of £762,900.
It has taken this Council 5 years to organise tenders for this urgent repair work, during which time the vacant building will have deteriorated further.
The Victoria Baths is not unique amongst Sefton Council’s portfolio of Listed Buildings.
The saga of the former Carnegie Library on College Road, Crosby, has been extensively reported. During the 6 years that Grade II Listed Building stood empty, any maintenance was neglected and its condition was allowed to deteriorate. The building required £1.5m of works to repair and refurbish, according to figures presented by Regenerus.
But what of Waterloo Town Hall and Bootle Town Hall?
The Council commissioned specialist reports on both of these Listed Buildings but the repair costs and the long-term future of these buildings have never been disclosed.
The Council argues that it is committed to safeguarding and maintaining the Borough’s historic buildings, even syphoning money from the Transition Fund to employ additional staff to look at buildings at risk. However, these commitments are not followed up by actions.
It is not only historic buildings which are being ignored by this Labour Council but other prominent and more modern buildings.
Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre (CLAC) is a classic example. In November 2019 the Council’s Cabinet considered a report on the condition of this 10 year old building. The report noted:
“The Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre is an important council asset in a key coastal gateway…….The building is now c. 10 years old and has had little investment in maintenance. As a result, there is a back-log of maintenance required in the hospitality facilities estimated at c. £1m, with some parts of the hospitality facility now at end of life.”
That report ultimately led to a request for funding of £3.1m, of which £1m was to go towards rectifying the neglected maintenance.
Why, one might ask, did this Council stand back and allow the building to deteriorate to such an extent over just 10 years? It was intended to be self-financing with the income being ploughed into the building’s staffing and maintenance costs.
But what about the “elephant in the room” that is the Crosby Civic Centre. This prominent theatre building dating from 1968 has stood vacant for many years alongside the central library, which itself is looking neglected. This building complex, together with the adjoining municipal car park, fails to attract the attention of our local Councillors until, one imagines, further £m’s will be required to repair the decay.
This collection of buildings stands on one of the main approaches to Waterloo and Crosby and is currently an eyesore. Why has this council not looked at working with other agencies to redevelop the site, possibly as a site for a much-needed health and community centre, incorporating a more modern library and resource area.
It is disturbing that so many Council-owned buildings, especially historic buildings, are vacant or under-occupied. What steps is this Council taking to bring the premises into productive use to stimulate the local economy, support the community and to remove eyesores?
Martyn Barber, Chair of Sefton Central Conservative Association, said “We all know that spending on building maintenance is often the first sacrifice when cost savings are being sought. However, this has been demonstrated from the examples above, to be a wholly false economy.
If this Council does not have the capacity or capability to properly look after its building why does it not consider establishing a building preservation trust, working with local communities and with the ability to raise external funds to properly safeguard and maintain our buildings.
A Conservative Council would also fundamentally review the use of the Council’s buildings, ensuring more effective occupancy, disposing of unwanted assets, and reducing the dependency of privately rented office accommodation for council staff.”