Work will begin in a couple of days from now (mid-August).

In early August contracts were finally exchanged, the legal niceties signed and sealed, arrangements made for actual activity in the old Bristol North Baths building after more than 5 years of appallingly frustrating delay.

You won’t see anything for a while because work has to proceed in a sensitive and painstaking way to convert the inside of a Grade 2 listed building to a Community Health Centre.  The new library won’t start construction for another few months because erecting a modern building on a clear site will take less time and the idea is to bring the whole site to conclusion at the same time in about a year’s time.  Then we shall have a fine set of buildings and a good focal point for Gloucester Road.

 So you may well ask, what on earth has been the reason for so much delay.  Many, many reasons.  For one, there was originally opposition to the plans and a rival scheme tried to halt things by a Judicial Review which dragged on for the best part of a year.  Then, on the day before the hearing, the opponents dropped the case, but not before the Council had been compelled to spend much time and money on preparing a legal case.
And by this time, the economic collapse had occurred and the finance behind the scheme dried up, as for many others.

However, we didn’t give up hope but other snags cropped up.  It seemed the Council didn’t own all the land and various leases had to be sorted, including one for which an owner wasn’t known to the Council, meaning a lengthy search until the lease was legally declared forfeit.

Then, the chimney, which is also listed as a local landmark, was found to have been very badly neglected over a long period.  The top had been capped allowing corrosive acids and gases to build up inside threatening its fabric.  At a cost of thousands of pounds and much time the chimney was fully scaffolded, its exterior brought to a good condition and its insides sorted out.

One of the longest delays was caused by Orange, the mobile phone people.  They have a mast on the pavement in front of where the library will be and this will have to be moved.  However Orange just weren’t interested in getting on with it, despite the Council deploying successive Deputy Chief Executive Officers.  I think this delay went on, exasperatingly, for a year or so.  

Finally Orange agreed to its antennae being transferred to the chimney but insisted, against the wishes of the Council and many local people including me, that the antennae be on the outside of the chimney.  Eventually this went to the Planning Committee and as a compromise, not satisfactory but I think the best in the circumstances, black boxes will be fixed just before the top.

As the economic crisis dragged on, finance became an increasing problem and last autumn the Council stepped in to provide interim financing which will be paid back on completion.  This is possible because the Council can borrow cheaply at present and has good credit.  This is easy to say but much more complicated to do, requiring a grimly determined journey of attrition through a jungle of legal agreements, fail-safes, legal clauses ad infinitum.  They finally hacked their way through the last legalistic thicket into the sunlight a week or so ago.

Some, not being aware of all the arguments of 7 years ago, have wondered why the Baths could not have simply been restored to their original use.  In the first place the 100 year old building was simply not fit for the purpose, secondly neglect had meant an impossibly expensive repair bill loomed and finally it constantly made a loss whereas at the new location of the local pool at the Horfield Leisure Centre, co-location with the gym facilities has meant a huge increase in use and no need for Council subsidy.

By this time next year, the Baths will have a new lease of life as a Community Health Centre (principally used by the newly combined Spence and Archer GP practices), Bishopston will at last have its own library (with some community facilities), and the car park will remain though it will be somewhat smaller.

Bev Knott - Councillor

See also:

http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/Bear-Pit-latest-ideas-traffic-calming/story-16750847-detail/story.html