New plans to overhaul the historic Haggerston Baths in Hackney have been criticised by campaigners after failing to include a swimming pool.
Last week, images of what the baths could look like following plans from two potential developers, London and Regional Properties and Castle Forge, were released. However, neither of their designs involve a pool.
Michaels Coysh, chair of the Save Haggerston Pool campaign told Eastlondonlines: “The baths are something the locals remember fondly. We remember swimming there as children, and taking our children as well. It is bitterly disappointing that it will no longer be a part of the community.
“Without the pool there is no focal point in the Haggerston area, nothing that sets us apart. There is nothing like it, as the local lido and the Britannia do not fit everybody’s needs.”
The site is a Grade II-listed building located by Haggerston Park, with great historical resonance in the area, which is why the locals are so passionate about maintaining its original purpose.
Haggerston Baths was opened to the public in 1904, the project of Alfred Cross who was responsible for 11 London public baths. Apparently at the opening ceremony in 1903, Alderman E J Wakeling, Vice-Chair of the Baths Committee, swam a length of the pool.
Following the public opening, the Hackney and Kingsland Gazette exclaimed that it was sorely needed; “not as a luxury, but as an absolute necessity.”
This was in reaction to the outbreak of cholera in the area and because, at the time, most houses in Haggerston did not have their own baths.
Today, the local community believe it is important to keep a local pool in the area, not just because it represents this history, but simply for the practical purpose of teaching the youth to swim.
The pool has been closed since 2000 due to high maintenance costs, and people have been campaigning to have them re-opened since.
However, the Council did not intend to scrap the pool from the start. Until last year, one of the three expressions of interest included a pool.
Coysh added: “The dream of the pool re-opening was briefly bought back to life around six years ago, when the government offered £5m to the Department of Education, to help the pool get back up and running. However, this was just before the financial crisis, and that money was obviously needed somewhere else at the time.”
Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, said: “I know that local residents were keen to restore the swimming pool, so the council spent the best part of a year negotiating with a developer whose proposals included a pool.
“Unfortunately we could not get the reassurances we needed that the scheme proposed would actually be delivered.” Thus, the third developer was dropped from the running.
The two developers left are Castle Forge and London and Regional Properties, both looking to transform the site into creative workspaces for businesses, also involving cafés, art galleries and function rooms.
Richard Gibbs, who is promoting the developments by London and Regional Properties, told Eastlondonlines: “If these plans go ahead, all in all they will take at least four years to carry out, as it is a listed building and there are restrictions we must take into account.
“We are very hopeful that the historical value of the building will be maintained, as this is what drew us to the site in the first place. We are simply repurposing it to provide a modern use.”
In terms of what this new development will provide for the local community, Gibbs added: “Providing a space for local businesses is at the heart of what the whole scheme is about, and has been curated with the public in mind. Our plans include a gallery and a café for public use, and it has been designed to fit the demand of modern work. This is now a permeable arrangement, where work and leisure go hand in glove, where it used to be more separate.”
This said, Coysh points out: “There was a distinctive quality about the pool. I was the chair of the children’s swimming club, but there was a club for women, a Jewish swimming club, I even recall there being a men’s naturist club – many former members now sitting in the House of Lords.
“I fear that under the new development it might just be a hub for trendy, young, creative business professionals, and won’t attract people in as it once did.”
Joe Sheeran of Hackney Council told Eastlondonlines: “The Council intends to retain the freehold ownership but grant a 250 year lease”, meaning the building will remain in the hands of the local authority.
There will be two drop-in sessions for locals to look at the plans and pick up a consultation pack: on March 28 and April 27, between 6-8pm. There will also be a Q&A and panel discussion on April 12 from 6.30pm, to be chaired by Mayor Philip Glanville.
All the sessions are at Centre 151 in Whiston Road – next to the baths building.