The brief that went out to consultants for the feasibility scheme (without a review by the Working Group) claimed that “Nottingham City Council has recently resolved to
close the existing Victoria Leisure Centre, and to replace it with a new leisure facility within a wider redevelopment which includes both the leisure centre site and an adjoining site on Brook Street, which formerly contained local authority housing."
The addition of the Brook Street site to the project does not seem to have been the result of a 'resolution by the Council' at all, but rather a decision to try and pay for a new leisure facility by doing a deal with commercial developers that would see parts of the combined site used for private development, which would supposedly pay (at least in part) for the building of the leisure centre and running costs.
The Campaign finds it worrying is that there has been no overt discussion of this approach and how best to balance commercial value with meeting community needs. So far, the attitude from the Council officers seems to be that community needs are in direct competition with commercial development value, but this is very short sighted. There have been many examples of imaginative development that are both commercial, community and political successes. Any developer worth his or her salt would know that keeping the community on side is essential for reducing development risk, and surely Councillors can see that commercial gain will be very 'expensive' indeed if it alienates the public they represent? Complete transparency and pro-active inclusion are essential if this project is to work, and we aren't getting either at the moment.
There are 2 factors bearing on the project about which the campaign are concerned: 1. It is complex and risky
Commercial returns would have been a lot higher if the whole site was cleared and sold off, and a new pool built elsewhere; the frontage to Sneinton Market place (unlike most of the rest of the site) would have some real commercial value. This would have made the project more profitable, but would have been a disaster for the community, which has expressed a very strong attachment to the current Baths site as public facility. The public space of Sneinton Market would also have suffered from the loss of public footfall if the entrance to the Baths did not connect with the Square. As a result the Council are still pursuing the idea of getting commercial development to fund the project- but with a much-reduced and more risk-laden 'offer' for developers. Clearly a project which involves mixed use, an existing building and a public facility vastly complicates the project (and developers hate complicated, it means RISK). Can this stack up financially? If it doesn't, what will happen to Victoria Baths?
2. What about the economy?
Recent events make reliance on commercial development even more risky for the Baths- given the current economic climate it actually seems like a non-starter: Until the property market settles (no one knows when this will happen) it will be nigh-on impossible to produce a robust financial picture of what funds a commercial development could possibly bring in to the project. If a scenario is developed that requires a certain level of commercial income generation, will we be left in the meantime with either the current facilities limping along, or maybe some interim repairs to patch things up, or, worse, closure until the markets are back on track and the grand commercial scheme becomes feasible? In the worst case scenario, if the
feasibility study does not resolve these problems might the Council say 'well, we tried' and not reverse their (still current) decision to close the Baths?
Whatever the gap between the original resolution of the council and the new statements, the interesting thing is what they reveal about the UNSPOKEN intentions: The words REPLACE, NEW and POOL (singular) just keep cropping up- what are we to think when we are being told one thing (that they are open to all possibilities, including the 'extreme' of refurbishment) but their public statements are raising expectations of something different? In reality, a successful Victoria Baths project will probably involve elements of refurbishment, with selective demolition and new build, in a mix that is acceptable to all parties. If the current feasibility study is going to be taken seriously, the Council should not at this time be committing themselves through their public statements to a NEW POOL, but should be committing to an open discussion all aspects of the project, including the commercial development angle.