The Friends of Carlisle Victorian and Turkish baths have criticised Carlisle Council executive after the six Conservative councillors voted to close the city’s Turkish baths in just 90 seconds.
The decision comes less than two weeks after Carlisle Turkish Baths were voted Cumbria’s Best Small Tourist Attraction in the Cumbria Life Readers Awards, and despite usage of the baths increasing by over 100% in the last 12 months.
Council decision condemned
Over 50 members of the public crammed into the tiny 1st floor meeting room in the civic centre hoping to hear a detailed explanation from councillors but were left outraged by a decision that appeared to have been made before the meeting.
Iain Young, a regular user of the Turkish baths, spoke for many when he addressed the six councillors:
“How can you come to that decision without doing your research, without listening to people … every time you have put something forward (for closure) it has been shown it can be overcome. But you have been determined to close it.”
Members of the public were prevented from asking questions of the councillors, and council leader John Mallinson suspended the meeting following Young’s remarks.
Friends of Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths
The closure comes in the face of an 18-month long campaign by The Friends of Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths. The group has repeatedly asked the council to keep the baths open while the Friends complete a development study and assemble the capital to redevelop the baths as a centre for health and wellbeing.
Commenting after the meeting, chair of the Friends Group, Julie Minns said:
“When we started the campaign, Cllr John Mallinson said ‘What will ultimately save the Turkish baths is people using them … if we can ensure they are presented in good order and that they are attractive that would be the best way to ensure their future’. Both those things happened, yet the council is still closing it.”
Over the last 18 months the council has cited various reasons for closure, including the invasive surveys required for the Station Gateway Development, the power supply, that GLL were unable to continue to operate the bath, and the environmental impact of keeping them open and cost.
“We have answered every single point that has been raised”, said Minns, “and we would have answered the points raised yesterday. But we weren’t given the chance. We weren’t told the meeting was happening, we weren’t given the background papers detailing the reasons for closure, and we weren’t given the chance to ask questions. The decision by the executive is bad for democracy, bad for Carlisle and bad for the health and wellbeing of local people.”
Closing the Turkish baths
In deciding to close the Turkish baths, executive councillor for heritage and leisure, Stephen Higgs, cited the cost of keeping the baths open. However, at a council meeting in April, Cllr Mallinson told representatives of The Friends that money was not the issue. Just five weeks ago he said at a recent meeting of the council’s people scrutiny panel, that “if we need the money we will find it”.
Botcherby resident Helen Fuller – one of many who has recently discovered the Turkish baths – was angered by the decision:
“Councillor Higgs describes it as a ‘temporary suspension’ but how can it be when he cannot say when it will begin and end. These six councillors have washed their hands of the baths and left the people who use them high and dry. They should be ashamed. But they’re not, in fact as I was leaving the meeting I heard Cllr Mallinson say he wasn’t ashamed at all. Well I am ashamed of them and I am not the only one.”
Despite there never having been a consultation on closing the Turkish Baths – the last in the North West and one of only 12 left in the UK – the 113-year-old baths will close its doors by the end of the month.