Thursday, 7 May 2015

What future for the Ladywell Baths (aka 'The Playtower')?

All of us are keen to see this semi-derelict local landmark brought back into use.
It remains in Council ownership but since the dissolution of the Trust, established about 5 years back (by the local voluntary sector and a church), and £500k+ works by the Council to weatherproof the building, little clear progress has been made towards finding a viable plan, not least because works costing upwards of £3m will be required before the building can be used.
The Council continues to look at options for raising funds to bring the building back into productive use, but there are significant challenges to overcome.  There have been ongoing discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) about schemes, which could help overcome the investment hurdle (Heritage Enterprise and Heritage Grants being the two obvious funding streams).  The Council is also in contact with a ‘heritage consultant’ who has previously developed a number of successful HLF proposals.
The Council has indicated only this week that it is open to viable community proposals for the building’s future but, inevitably, everything will hang on securing the significant investment required.
The last full assessment of refurbishment cost was undertaken over 7yrs ago.  Then the estimated cost of restoring the building to basic productive use as offices was £2.3m, but since then costs will have risen significantly, and there is asbestos to remove which will make refurbishment even more complicated.
The Council could yet decide to dispose of the site, though the building’s condition and Grade II listed status, plus the site constraints, may make it unattractive to developers.  The only area where new build would be possible is a rectangular area at the rear of the site, adjacent to St.Mary's Churchyard. 
Anyone interested in joining potential discussions, later in the Summer, on developing viable community proposals for the site - which will need to include significant public and/or private investment and some sort of income generation plan plan - should contact
Robert Sheppard