Hackney Conservatives have spoken out in support of a local campaign to reduce the size and impact of the redevelopment of Haggerston Baths.
A consultation on the building’s future run in 2017 by the council found that redevelopment by Castleforge Partners was the “most popular” option in response to residents’ concerns, which included the retention of a mixed community use of the Baths, as well as protection of its heritage features.
Campaigners supported by Cllr Simche Steinberger are saying that Castleforge’s plans “vary drastically” from that consulted upon in 2017, pointing to the addition of two extra floors to the building’s western end.
Local resident Lottie Maynard Fry, who lives opposite the Baths, said: “The plan added two extra floors to the building, a private roof terrace for business use and a huge new entrance just a few feet from our homes.
“Their original winning bid kept to the existing height of the building. If these new plans go ahead, dozens of homes will lose up to 60 per cent of daylight and see office workers looking directly into our bedrooms.”
Local Verena Roth added: “The plans clearly divide the building in two parts and it becomes very clear that the West side will be a complete new and unquestionably overdeveloped business monstrosity which has historically, structurally and logistically nothing in common with the present building.”
“All in all it’s clear that there are two building sites – the old, pretty conservation pool building at the back, which they over-sell eagerly as
a ‘community space’, and then the completely separate and overdeveloped business hub which will take over Swimmers Lane.”
The Baths, opened in 1904, was closed in 2000 for emergency repair work, and have remained shut ever since, which the Town Hall says costs it £100,000 per year in maintenance and security expenses.
The council went to developers in 2015 with the offer of a 250-year lease to restore the building and bring it back into use, which was agreed by Castleforge in 2018, with the future of the building last year described as a destination hub combining commercial offices, studios and workshop spaces, community and exhibition spaces”.
Haggerston Baths is currently on Historic England’s ‘Buildings At Risk’ register and in extremely poor repair having sat empty for 20 years.
Conservative councillor Simche Steinberger said: “Nowadays when new people want to build stuff, the council make people pay back into the pot, but here we’ve got something that belongs to the community.
“It was such a good thing to have the swimming pool, we don’t have that many, so I would have wanted it to stay. The council are busy closing all the roads everywhere, and here there are going to be massive lorries coming in, so it doesn’t make sense.
“I don’t know what is going on in Hackney politics on consultations to be honest, I don’t understand it. They’re treating people as if they don’t matter. The residents there don’t even know what’s going on.”
Town Hall officers confirmed back in November that “no viable proposal” to reuse the building as a swimming baths ever came forward, adding that the tendering process around the building had provided “marketing evidence that there are no credible suitors looking to invest in the continued use of the baths”.
Castleforge’s company Haggerston Baths Ltd (HBL), which is the planning applicant to the council for the development, has stated that the redevelopment of the buildings would be “unable to move forward” if the size of the new build proportion of the building was “reduced in any way”.
A letter from HBL to the council goes on to state: “HBL firmly believes that the future popularity and success of the property is dependent upon the historic appeal of the site and the fact it is a different and interesting building that has the ability to entertain and excite those that interact with it. Retaining the heritage fabric, as far as it’s viable to do so, is therefore a key objective.”
The company went on to underline that retaining the heritage aspects of the building is “not without cost”.
Local resident Niall Crowley said: “The council are determined to offload the building, regardless of conservation or heritage, regardless of the social and health consequences for the community.
“When we looked at the details of these new plans we were horrified. They’re nothing like what any of us were led to believe. We’re all for saving this historic building and returning it to public use in some way, but these plans are a million miles from that.”
Crowley, unimpressed with the level of community engagement carried out by the developer, which saw feedback from 35 people, put together his own survey, which the campaign says demonstrates that “people are not happy with current plans and the council needs to address this before proceeding”.
According to the survey, a majority of just under 100 respondents canvassed by the campaign disagree that the proposed use of the Baths benefits the community, and do not feel adequately consulted about the redevelopment.
In response to the campaign’s points, Castleforge pointed to the “widereaching ongoing public consultation process”, which is still live, having run for 18 months, with the developer having run drop-in workshops for businesses and residents, contacted 10,000 addresses ahead of events, and held targeted sessions with tenants’ associations and residents’ groups.
Hackney Council was unable to comment on the campaign’s concerns as the planning application remains live, but according to Castleforge has “thoroughly analysed the full planning application”, which the developer says details how the site will be “sensitively and safely operated to minimise the impact of neighbours and residents, the careful and appropriate management of traffic, and the results of the daylight/sunlight study – which fall within Building Research Establishment guidance for urban settings”.
A spokesperson for Castleforge added: “The design of the Haggerston Baths scheme has been pieced together carefully drawing on a variety of key design cues and responding to the valuable feedback we have received from a diverse range of stakeholders and consultees.
“Local schools, societies, and community groups have all been consulted and we are committed to maintaining open channels of communication with as many groups as possible.
“At the heart of this project is returning the pool hall area to public use and engaging with the community has been extremely influential in shaping the way we are looking to do this. A thorough Statement of Community Involvement has been produced showing preferences and support for the project and this forms part of the planning application.
“We have worked extensively with the council’s planning, heritage and conservation team, Historic England, and several important local heritage groups and societies. The submitted scheme will save the heritage features of the site, repairing and restoring them so that they will be there for future generations to appreciate. Any alterations are to be agreed and overseen by heritage officers and Historic England ensuring the building is sensitively reinstated and its future secured.”