“NEW TENANT FOR HAGGERSTON Baths” was the dull title of an important Hackney council press release. Yet its very understatement made it eye-catching.
When a council wording is evasive, you know it is on the defensive. True, it has sold the lease on the much-loved local asset, but to describe the new owner of a lease as a “new tenant” rather than a buyer is to underplay the fate of one of the grandest buildings in the borough.
Why then is the town hall defensive about the sale, after a drawn-out bidding process run by City bank BNP Paribas’s property division? Perhaps because the baths, owned by the council — the people’s representative body — has been sold on the basis that no attempt will be made to save the bijou pool at Whiston Road E2 8BA. The building has been allowed to decay since the council closed it in 2000, against the wishes of local people.
The lease on the baths has been sold, not to a consortium of residents, not to a firm with a record of caring for local assets, such as Antico, which saved the Dalston mural, and not to a social enterprise, but to a little-known private-equity firm, Castleforge Partners, founded by two New Yorkers. Castleforge says the baths will become a “multi-faceted workspace” (whatever that is), an art gallery, offices, affordable workspaces, pop-ups, shops, cafés, health centre and food stalls.
Loving Dalston has been snapping at the council’s heels this month for an update of the sorry tale of mismanagement. Councillors met last week to decide whether to sell to Castleforge but the council refused to tell this news site of their decision, instead deploying an obscure legislative get-out to keep schtum for commercial “confidentiality” reasons.
Several days later came the “new tenant” press release. It included a statement by Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville, a mixture of brazen spin and apologetic humility. “I know that local residents were keen to restore the swimming pool,” he said, “so the council spent the best part of a year negotiating with a bidder whose proposals included a pool… we could not get the reassurances we needed that the scheme with a pool would actually be delivered.”
He said a few words about the Victorian Society naming the 1903 Grade II-listed building as one of the country’s most-endangered, before adding: “I hope this project will guarantee a long-term and self-sustaining future for the building….”
He did not mention that the society “would ideally like to see Haggerston Baths reopened as a swimming pool”.
Was it a press officer who assembled the tricksy press release? After all, the mayor knows his first name lacks the extra L the press release gave it.
David Altheer 291117
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