Council takes back Bristol North Baths from developer

December 23 2015

IT was a project that left many frustrated – and even out of pocket.

IT was a project that left many frustrated – and even out of pocket.

Now, Bristol City Council has taken back the Bristol North Baths from developer Chatsworth Homes.

Chatsworth Homes started work in August 2012 to convert the former swimming baths site in Gloucester Road into flats, a health centre and a library.

But, a series of delays to the £3.4million project, which was due for completion by October 2013, and a “lack of trust” lead the council to terminate its contract with the developer.

Chatsworth Homes also failed to keep the Bishopston Medical Practice on board as tenants.

The council outlined its concerns to Chatsworth Homes at the beginning of November, and gave managing director Kevin Batt 10 days to show how he could resolve a number of issues.

The developer held a press conference on November 26 to announce that it had found a funder to complete the project, but the council’s service director for property, Steve Orrett, responded that it was “too late”.

At the public meeting, Mr Batt was branded a “liar” and “coward” by traders who are still owed money by Chatsworth Homes. The council was also criticised for not taking back the development sooner.

Physiotherapist Keith James, who will be leasing the hydrotherapy suite in the baths, said that he has spent around £36k as a result of the delays.

Chatsworth Homes handed back the keys to Bristol City Council the following day.

Mr James says that he is still committed to the project, and has proposed to take on the ground floor of the baths to make it a mixed community space, which will include his hydrotherapy suite.

He said: “I really hope that things can start moving quickly now that the council has taken over, and I’m hopeful that I can move in by this summer.  

“I recognise that it is going to be a slow process until someone takes upstairs [where the doctors’ surgery is] – hopefully, the Bishopston Medical Practice will come back to the table.

“In the meantime, I’m very happy to take on more space for a community mixed use venue downstairs.”

At a recent Redland residents’ meeting, Steve Matthews, project leader at Bristol City Council, told members of the public that commercial property consultants Alder King has now been assigned to complete the project.

Mr Matthews said that work is likely to start again in February. The flats are a few weeks away from completion, while the library may take six weeks to fit-out.

He added that the baths development is a “long way behind”, and is expected to be completed by late summer at the earliest.

Mr Matthews said: “The keys were taken back from Chatsworth Homes on November 27, and now we have a team together to recover the project and finish it off.

“We hope, now that Chatsworth Homes is no longer involved in the project, the Bishopston Medical Practice will come back on board. But we will be in discussions about this.”  

Linda Buczek, a partner at the Bishopston Medical Practice told Bishopston Voice: “We are exploring a number of options at the moment, but we remain positive about the practice’s future.”

Redland councillor Fi Hance said: “Personally, I think it’s a sad situation for Chatsworth Homes and a terrible tragedy for Kevin Batt, but the council has given them plenty of chances. No one is going to come out of this smelling of roses.”

Bristol mayor George Ferguson has condemned Chatsworth Homes for not completing the project. He said: “I have frequently expressed my frustration over this disaster of a scheme, which was started long before I came into office, and I dispute much of what Chatsworth Homes has recently claimed.

“We have given him so much rope and done all we can to honour our agreement and to help him to complete this project, but time after time he has failed to deliver on his promises.

“It is vital that we protect the council’s investment and take control of this project to deliver the much needed library, health centre and new homes at no net loss to the taxpayer.”

In a statement released by Chatsworth Homes before the press conference, a spokesperson said: “[We] are very concerned for the local community and taxpayers that Bristol City Council appears to have declined an opportunity to resolve the delays – at no costs to themselves.

“This can only lead to further massive delays and increased costs of completion which will need to be funded by the taxpayers of Bristol.

“Chatsworth Homes are bitterly disappointed that, by BCC not taking up the noted offer, contractors and local businesses cannot or will not be paid.”