What future for Thimblemill Baths

A statement by Councillor Bob Piper

I have had a lot of phone calls and e-mails over the last few days about this story which appeared in the Express & Star last Thursday, and there has been a lot of comment and speculation on the Bearwood Facebook Page. Much of the concern centres around the suggestion in the story that the new swimming centre would replace existing facilities, particularly those at the Hadley Stadium and Thimblemill Baths.

There have been allegations that we have been disingenuous and dishonest by not announcing this until after the local council elections. So, I would like to set the record straight on that one. The first I knew of this was when the story broke in the newspaper and I started to get phone calls and e-mails from concerned residents, which I am afraid I have not been able to respond to as well as people are entitled to expect from their Ward councillor. Although the Council Leader says that my fellow councillors in Smethwick and Langley have been consulted, I have not been able to confirm that yet, hence the fact I am making this statement in a personal capacity. I have now been promised a briefing on the issue, and I will hopefully be able to provide people with some more information when it is available.

I don’t have a problem with a new swimming facility in Smethwick, and in terms of distance it is only as far to travel to the Harry Mitchell Centre from Bearwood as it is for people there to travel to Thimblemill. My concerns are about capacity and the future use of the building. Replacing both of the existing swimming pools at Langley and Bearwood means we would only have one pool, and when that is being used for ‘swimming galas’ or water polo, or by the clubs that train in the pool, what facilities will exist for ordinary swimmers. Similarly, if the gym facilities are closed at the existing centres, will there be the capacity at a new centre?

But also, what would happen to the building? Thimblemill is a Grade 2 listed art deco building with 2 pools, 3 gym areas,  a dance studio with a group fitness programme, and a sauna and steam facility. As Ward councillors and residents we will want to seek some assurances that we are not going to be left with a boarded up building which will attract anti-social behaviour and blight the area.

What we must do is try to ensure that local people are consulted and involved in the decision making processes… before they read in the Express & Star newspaper about decisions that appear to have already been taken!

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35 Responses to What future for Thimblemill Baths

  1. jenniesandford says:

    Thanks for this Bob. I also have no problem with the creation of a new leisure facility (although I will if it turns into the money pit that is The Public.) But I wonder, how out of touch with current thinking is the leader of the Council? Has he even heard of the term hyper local? Edge of town superstores and retail parks have already ripped apart high streets. Our local communities need swimming pools and gyms (and libraries – they’ll be next no doubt) that are easily accessible to all on a regular basis. Encouraging the need to drive to a gym or swimming pool is just idiotic. Obesity is cited as one of the major problems facing our society and the beleaguered health service. Access to fitness facilities, healthy food and good parks on our doorsteps is vitally important to us all, young and old. Whatever short term financial gains are to be had from this new plan, in the long term our communities will suffer from the economic and social implications of this decision. We must not let existing facilities close.

  2. Ron B says:

    Bob, I know you say you didn’t know, and I trust you, but it just looks to suspicious to me that this is announced within days of an election and when there is no election next year (is that right, I’ve been told it). It beggars belief that plans like this could be drawn up in a matter of hours so some of your colleagues must have known and were keeping it from us. Are you in a position to tell us whether Steve or Ann, the candidate, knew before the election?

  3. Kevin Wright says:

    Ron, of course they knew. How can you tell when a politician is telling lies? Their lips move. It is alrite for Bob to come on here playing mr innocent and he knew nothing. But I for one dont believe a word of it.

    • Bob says:

      Kevin, I suspect whatever I say you are unlikely to believe me, but as I say, the first I heard of it was when I was told it was in the Express and Star. Ron, I have had conflicting information on this so no, I’m not in a position to clarify it for certain.

    • richard says:

      Kevin – you obviously dont know Bob or you wouldnt be talking out of your backside!

  4. Steve Eling says:

    For the record, none of the Abbey Ward councillors were aware of the article that appeared in the Express and Star in advance. The leader of the Council has confirmed this to me, recognising that he should have told us. He also told me that the article should have mentioned that there will be public consultation.

    The leader of the Council is previously on record stating his desire for there to be new leisure facilities in Smethwick, but we have not seen any options, timescales or costs, which would form part of any consultation.

    If the leader of the Council is going to develop plans, wouldn’t it be better now to participate in a properly informed consultation rather than speculate on the unknown and the potential outcomes of doom?

  5. hazel shipton says:

    it beggars belief in this econonic climate to spend thousands upgrading our local swimming centre/gym for it to be replaced by a new facility. not everyone has cars and thimblemill is near to many bus routes and in walking distance from many schools. if you close it what will the building be used for housing, restaurants or just left to rot. dont replace use what we have

  6. pollyreed says:

    I would be disappointed if Thimblemill were to close, and I feel compelled to write to take issue with this statement “I don’t have a problem with a new swimming facility in Smethwick, and in terms of distance it is only as far to travel to the Harry Mitchell Centre from Bearwood as it is for people there to travel to Thimblemill” This does not make any sense and cannot be true. For many residents in Bearwood it is a short walk to Thimblemill. and a drive; or longer walk to Harry Mitchell Centre.

    • Bob says:

      My point is that it is the same distance for people who live near the Harry Mitchell Centre to travel to Bearwood to swim, as it is for people who live in Bearwood to travel to the Harry Mitchell Centre.

      Which is actually what I said, and not only can it be true, it is obviously true.

  7. hazel shipton says:

    at least thimblemill baths is served and near to local buses ,what buses can you catch to harry mitchell, not everyone uses cars

    • Bob says:

      Hazel, don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing for Thimblemill to close, quite the opposite. But your point about the transport links between Harry Mitchell and Thimblemill are exactly the same in reverse. It is equally difficult for people in that part of Smethwick to get to Bearwood.

      • hazel shipton says:

        what bus goes near harry mitchell the nly one from bearwood is the 450 and then you have a good walk,at least the thimblemill is seved by at least eight different bus routes

      • Bob says:

        Presumably, though, if you live near he Harry Mitchell centre there is only the 450 bus, isn’t there. That is the only point I was trying to make. Polly said it isn’t true, and took issue with my statement, but it obviously is true.

        Your point about transport links generally is a good one though, although I wouldn’t want to rely on it as the main issue because it could easily be resolved by ensuring the transport company put on additional routes to satisfy the demand of a new leisure facility.

      • Feverfew says:

        But the Harry Mitchell Centre hasn’t even got a pool! This makes a complete nonsense of your argument!

  8. At present a lot of local schools use Thimblemill baths and I know at least 3 that walk their Children there, If it is moved these children will need to be provided with transport which I presume the council will fund??
    Will the public get a chance to voice their opinions about this before the new plans get the go ahead?
    Maybe this building will end up in the Black country museum too?…

    • Bob says:

      Jennifer, the point is presumably the same one. At the moment schools nearer to Harry Mitchell centre have to bus their children to Thimblemill.

      I sincerely hope there will be a major consultation, but to be honest, we don’t know any more than you. I gather the Council leader has spoken on Radio WM about the proposal, but sadly hasn’t seen fit to consult with the elected councillors, so I know no more about this than what appeared in the Express and Star.

      My fellow Ward councillor, Steve Eling, is the Deputy Leader of the Council and he tells me that to his knowledge there are no plans nor funding in place, for this scheme, nor would it be feasible for at least four years.

      • I do see your point, but as said previously by others, there are more bus routes and schools this side using Thimblemill than there are near The new site. I can see your frustration, hopefully they will tell you a little more soon and you can pass that information on to us via this blog?

      • Bob says:

        Thanks. As soon as I know I will share the info on here.

  9. SteveW says:

    Swimming baths aren’t built over night, so obviously there will be a time lag before this proposal comes to fruition, but it seems to me the leader of the council has made his mind up and the rest of you don’t matter a damn. No wonder people feared having a Mayor making all the decisions because that looks like what is happening around here. At least if Cooper was an elected mayor we would be able to tell him where to stick his plans. Having good local councillors doesn’t count for jack, as far as I can see, because they don’t even know what’s going on anyway.

  10. Mike says:

    Bob, you seem to be making excuses fore all this. Darren Cooper put on his website that we are having a new swimming pool almost as soon as the polling stations closed. Then he made sure it went in the Star. All I hear from Bearwood councillors is “I know nothing”, when we should be kept informed of what is going on. We are not mushrooms to be kept in the dark and covered in s***.

    • Bob says:

      I don’t know how many different ways I can say this.

      I don’t know anything to be able to tell you anything. I am now told that Councillor Cooper has handed this over to Councillor Eling to deal with, and that Councillor Jaron was present at the time. I clearly don’t mix in those circles, because I haven’t been told a thing other than what was in the paper or written by Councillor Eling earlier in this comments thread.

      I repeat, as soon as I know I will tell you all… Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been told.

  11. I have to reinforce Jennie’s comments above. I am absolutely appalled that the council can even consider closing our beautiful, historic Thimblemill baths. We certainly should not be arguing about whether our local councillors knew or not. We should be forming a protest group to keep this unique and beautiful building open.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with the facilities either at Thimblemill or Harry Mitchell and I cannot for the life of me see what is wrong with keeping them both open so that residents can use them (including the children of Abbey School who regularly form a crocodile down my road to visit the baths).

    Have these councillors never heard of something called localism, and something called consultation? The comments by Darren Cooper in the article are arrogant to the point of defying belief. It’s an utter, utter shameful indictment of Sandwell council if this preposterous plan goes ahead.

  12. richard chair friends of lightwoods says:

    I dont know how often I need to say this for people to take notice but I will try again …… if cllr bob piper knew anymore about this he would say!!!

    • Feverfew says:

      I think the problem most people will have with this is that if Bob did know about it, he should have informed his constituents, and if he didn’t know about it, he should have done – what’s the good of a councillor if he doesn’t know what his own party is doing?

  13. rosemarie hadley says:

    If Bob Piper (and maybe others in his position) didn’t know anything about this, then someone at Sandwell Council should be held to account surely?

  14. Arron Priest says:

    Moan moan moan.
    Why is it okay from us in smethwick having to travel to thimblemill but you can’t be arsed to travel the other way around. ? It may be an old historical building but time moves on. I go swimming for the facilities not to look at the building. You can’t live in the past. Be greatful in the investment and better facilities.

  15. Malcolm Leon Gateley says:

    I was born and bread in Bearwood Smethwick, Lightwoods Road, I went to Bearwood Road Junior School and learned to swim in Thimblemill Baths. I spent many happy hours in that swimming pool. I now live in Jersey Channel Islands and have just been telling friends what a great place it is. It was built ten years before I was born, to think that it is still standing now and looking such a great facility, is in my opinion a reason for preserving it for future generations to admire and enjoy. Jersey built a swimming pool supposedly of modern style, however it lasted but a few years, it is now derelict awaiting demolition.
    Keep what you have, another building will never be built in the same way and of the same quality again.
    Malcolm Leon Gateley.

    • rosemarie hadley says:

      Love your post Malcolm Gateley. I hope it goes someway to get our local councillors to see some sense. Thanks for your comments.

  16. Pip says:

    Why not, spend the money and refurbish both Langley and Thimblemill leisure centres to a high standard. Absolutely no need to build somewhere new.

  17. Bob says:

    Pip, you are replying to something which is three years old, and nothing has happened to close Thimblemill Baths in the intervening years. But let me ask you a question. If it would cost two million pounds to refurbish an old, energy inefficient swimming baths, or one million pounds to build a modern, energy efficient multi-purpose building… Should we refurbish, or build new? In Harborne, they chose the latter and have a very modern facility.

    I’m not saying Sandwell are proposing to demolish Thimblemill, but clearly leisure management should consider all options when spending public money.

  18. Mike says:

    I live not far from Harry Mitchell getting to Thimblemill is a nightmare and a good two buses and thats if they turn up on a sunday when the adult swim is. I had to walk from Londonderry once. Loads of buses but none linking Bearwood to this section of the High St so I dont go to Bearwood that often the links are silly

  19. Mike says:

    A bus like the 89 could be routed from Cape to Bearwood and it goes on Stony Lane, a short walk from Harry Mitchell. Instead it goes to Lion Farm so they have a link to Vity Hospital which shouldnt happen as currently from me Blackheath is now 45mins plus. A different bus should give them access allowing the 89 to serve Smethwick better

  20. Mike says:

    Just a comment. Overall I have to say the overall Leisure Centre linkups across Sandwell are poor which the 89 could do this as from Hales Lane/Hollybush stop its an o.k walk but as the 89 doesnt go to Bearwood and doesnt link up Langley, Smethwick, Warley etc its hard for people to get to and from Leisure facilities.

  21. Eleanor McGee says:

    Bob, you may have forgotten, but the closure, and the opening of the new Centre, was mentioned on the Bearwood Facebook page several months back, and you and I disagreed about it- you said it was one of only 2 leisure facilities in Sandwell requiring subsidy, so closure was inevitable. I asked why public facilities which benefit health and wellbeing should not be subsidised, and got no reply.

    • Bob says:

      Yes, Eleanor. But what should we cut in order to subsidise swimmers? Elderly social care? Refuse collection? Highways maintenance? Services to children in care, maybe. The reality is the government has taken hundreds of millions of pounds from local government in the last 10 years and if you subsidise swimmers in old fashioned energy inefficient buildings someone else has to pay the price.

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