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THE BATTLE TO SAVE THE BATHS

Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 8th January 2008
David Winpenny, Co-Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, reflects on the meeting held last Monday to discuss the future of Ripon’s Spa Baths.

The public meeting to discuss the future of a swimming pool for Ripon and the use of the Spa Baths building on Monday evening showed that there is a great deal of support both for the needs of swimmers and for the views of conservationists.

Ripon Civic Society is fully behind the wishes of people with an interest in swimming – and especially those who help young people to enjoy the water, as well as older people who swim for pleasure and groups that enjoy water sports. Ripon needs – and deserves – good swimming facilities.

The Society’s main interest, though, must be in the future of the buildings themselves. The whole of the Spa Baths structure (not just the frontage, which may come as a surprise to some of Harrogate Borough Council’s officials) is a Grade II listed building. English Heritage’s website says that buildings that are listed Grade II ‘are of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them’. They are listed in recognition of their particular value to the community in which they are found – and there is no doubt that the Spa Baths building has high value among Ripon’s buildings.

The official Listing says that the Baths consist of ‘a relatively utilitarian structure with an exceptionally elaborate front . . . exceptionally inventive moulded terracotta ornament covering the whole front, mainly Arts and Crafts in character, but in parts distinctly Art Nouveau.’ Inside, there is ‘a pyramidally roofed foyer with an ornamental glazed tile interior’ which is also considered of high value. All this must be kept – and the public needs to have access to at least the foyer if and when development is carried out.

The Civic Society is heartened that the feeling of the City Council was generally against using the site for housing. We have suggested that it could be used for a cinema or, more generally, as a performance space. We would also favour the proposition that the Spa Baths could be converted as part of the development of Ripon Hospital.

What must not happen, though, is that we are bounced into a decision about the site to fit into a strait-jacketed timetable pushed by officers of Harrogate Council to get it in ‘under the wire’ before the Local Plan changes. We need a considered debate with the consideration of a range of alternative plans – and that will inevitably take time. Six weeks is not long enough to decide on the whole future of this very important Ripon building.

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