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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 August, 2004, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
Lido listing sparks historic row
by Malcolm Prior
BBC News Online, Reading

The lido
Very few people realised what lay inside the vandalised building
For years, few people realised what was hidden behind the doors of the run-down building on the banks of the Thames.

But when plans to demolish the King's Meadow lido in Reading, Berkshire, were unveiled angry locals were up-in-arms over the threat to the town's heritage.

Now - after a heated campaign - the government has decided to grant the open-air pool Grade II listed status.

But that decision has outraged council bosses who hoped to develop a leisure complex on the prime riverside site.

They have branded English Heritage, which advises the government on listing buildings, as "inconsistent and irresponsible".

The lido interior
The council was always keen to point out the lido's dilapidated state
Reading Borough Council is now demanding an explanation as to why the conservation watchdogs changed their minds over the status of the Edwardian baths.

The council says that they were told in April that English Heritage thought the pool "did not possess sufficient special architectural or historic interest to merit listing".

Cllr John Howarth, the council's planning boss, said: "The way English Heritage have gone about this is both inconsistent and irresponsible.

"Following their report in April the council could have legitimately demolished the building and cleared the site.

"At the very least, they have wasted everybody's time and the council and local people deserve an explanation.

King's Meadow lido
In its glory day the lido was a popular leisure venue
"The council would be happy to hand the building over to English Heritage to restore and run it.

"However, we doubt if they have considered the practical realities of the situation for this council or local taxpayers."

A spokeswoman for English Heritage told BBC News Online that it would not be commenting on the decision until Friday.

Plans put forward to develop a hotel and leisure complex on the site by the River Thames will now have to be looked at again by the council.

When first announced, they sparked outrage among locals, who raised a petition containing more than 1,000 signatures in support of saving the pool.

In the public eye the building is a treasure of Reading
Campaigner Bob O'Neill
Yet the pool has not been open for 30 years and many did not even realise what was behind its doors.

Campaign organiser Bob O'Neill told BBC News Online that once people found out what was there they were adamant it had to be saved.

Mr O'Neill, 43, from Caversham, wants to see the pool restored and transformed into a winter ice-skating rink and a heated pool in the summer.

He told BBC News Online: "I was very excited to hear the building had been listed.

"This is the first time the building has been given the recognition it has deserved.

"In the public eye, the building is a treasure of Reading.

'A fine example'

"It is a shame it has been left to get into the state it is today. I'm pleased it has got a chance again."

The listed building order now protects the baths from adverse development and should certainly safeguard it from demolition.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the pool - which was originally for women only - was an "extremely rare and very fine example of a complete Edwardian lido".

She told BBC News Online that while listed building consent to demolish the baths could still be applied for by the council, to do so would be "very, very rare".

"It's not normal. The presumption would be against it," she said.

Locals fight to save outdoor pool
20 Jul 04  |  Berkshire

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