LYMINGTON’S historic sea water baths could be in line for a £5m transformation under ambitious plans being considered by the town council.
A bid for Lottery cash is being drawn up which, if successful, could help fund the creation of a new restaurant, major structural repairs, and year-round activities at the site which currently shuts over the winter.
The Grade II listed baths, which date back to 1833, have had about £250,000 spent on them over the last five years and currently run at a loss, according to town clerk Caroline Godfrey.
She said no decisions had been made and the council was engaging in some “blue sky thinking” on a project that could take up to five years to complete.
More details are expected to emerge later in the year as the bid to the National Heritage Lottery Fund take shape.
The ultimate aim is to make the operation sustainable for the next 10-20 years, said Mrs Godfrey, perhaps managed by a charitable trust while remaining in the ownership of the town council.
Other ideas being considered include covering part of the pool in the winter to create a skating rink, and dividing it into sections for more boating or canoeing activities as the temperature drops out of season.
Space above the changing rooms, currently used as offices, could be turned into an eatery overlooking the water.
Swimming conditions could be improved with parts of the 110-metre baths tiled, and the water no longer drawn from the river to avoid the costs of chlorination.
Structural investigations have suggested that there is little in the way of foundations for the baths, which are vulnerable to the weather, salt water, and rising tides, so much of the work would be on fixing the site’s underlying stability.
Cllr Barry Dunning, chair of the town council’s amenities committee, told the A&T: “It’s a unique building and structure and we feel from a heritage point of view it’s worth keeping. But if we carry on as we are, it’s just going to fall into the sea.”
‘It’s going to be a huge challenge’
The ambitious plans for the pool, which is due to reopen this season in May, were kicked off by the town council agreeing to set aside £50,000 to back the project’s initial stages.
Cllr Alan Penson, chair of the policy and resources committee, told members: “We are talking a very major project here. There’s lot of work to be carried out to get it into a situation where we can make an application.
“It’s a two-stage process where the first stage would be to develop the scheme and the costings prior to putting in a full bid. We are talking about a multi-million-pound scheme.”
The plan is for the council to employ Spud, an urban design charity based in Sway, to scope out the possibilities and prepare an application with the aim of triggering an expression of interest from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
If that is successful the council could proceed with a full application to help fund the project which could amount to spending worth millions.
Mrs Godfrey told the A&T: “A lot of people are very wedded to the baths but we spend huge amounts of local taxpayer money each year just repainting it and filling cracks. That’s not investing in it for the future. That’s why the money was put aside for something practical.”
She warned that any plans would be in the hands of England Heritage, the national body responsible for overseeing historic buildings, as well as decision-makers at the Lottery itself.
Mrs Godfrey said: “It’s going to be a huge challenge that we do not lose its beauty and uniqueness but also make it future-proof.
“It’s paramount that we take local people along with us on this journey. There will be public consultation – what do people want, and do they understand the challenges of maintaining the baths each year?”
Currently the sea water baths are owned and maintained by the town council but managed by Lynx Sports Management, headed by businessman Hugo Ambrose. It takes 25% of gate receipts and all the refreshments profits, and is responsible for the staffing costs.
But Mrs Godfrey said: “There is no guarantee the licensee will be there in a couple of years’ time, and it’s taxpayers’ money that is going into it each year. We must have a plan for how we are going to make it pay.”
The sea water baths were closed in 2008 for repairs but reopened in 2010 and given listed building status in 2013. It now offers paddle boarding and hot tubs, as well as one of the south coast’s biggest inflatable obstacle courses.
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