During the mid 1980s Michael Tansey, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, and William Miles, a partner in a local architectural firm, put forward a proposal to redevelop the Pump Rooms. Their plans ran into opposition and were eventually abandoned. These extracts provide a glimpse of what they were trying to achieve and of some of the problems they encountered along the way.
William Miles: Well the building itself was in bad shape. The facilities there for spa treatment were deteriorating very, very rapidly and also the structure in which it was, in which it was housed was deteriorating, obviously with the salt and the impregnation that had gone on over many, many years. And also there was of course the conflict of interest in the actual elements, main elements of the complex. You’ve got the Pump Rooms facing The Parade, which was always a place where people went for tea and lunches and had in actual fact been used as a function room which had gone into a state of little activity through management more than anything else. Then behind, immediately behind that you had the spa facilities and then adjacent to that and leading down towards the river you had a swimming pool which also was deteriorating, making the bulk of the buildings, it was essential to look at them from a refurbishment or a rebuild and we took it on for rebuild, maintaining one or two historical features, particularly one in the centre of the spa treatment area and it had reached the stage where, from a point of accommodation, it was fast going to need remedial work.Do you think your proposals would have worked?
WM: Oh yes. Quite sure they would have done. We’d done a very in-depth study of the whole thing. Not only what we were proposing, which would involve using, or reinstating the spirit of spa treatment, but also the extra facilities which would have been attached to it, which were all part of the rheumatic [ph] movement on the Continent, which wasn’t over here.
Michael Tansey: You go into hotels nowadays and at the bottom of the hotel they’ve always got a gym or something like that. We were putting that in for Leamington. We’d also looked – Leamington has an elderly population, lots of nursing homes looking after elderly people – we’d worked out a facility whereby people in the nursing homes if they wanted to could be ferried backwards and forward and have spa treatment once or twice a week as a therapy for the elderly. We put that sort of thing. We’d got the thing working early morning till late at night so that people who are in their offices all day or whatever, they could come and work out in the spa. Then we’d got the treatment for people requiring rheumatological treatment of whatever sort, sports injuries. We’d done a fairly comprehensive view of how we could use that place and make it functional for as much as possible. When the lights are out, it’s costing money and nobody’s gaining from it. When the lights are on and the facilities are being used, the thing is functional and it’s making money. Now, for something like that to make money, it has to be working properly and as much as it can.
MT: I felt that the patients that were getting hydrotherapy in the hydrotherapy pool needed it and it was benefiting them. Now, this was the stage in the NHS when we didn’t have this ridiculous internal market where everything had to be accounted for and there was some massaging of the figures in committee to try and persuade the committee that the Pump Room was too expensive, but they weren’t comparing like with like. The figures that were being produced in the NHS were figures that ignored the overheads. Whereas the figures that were being produced from the Pump Rooms included the heating, the lighting, the maintenance of the service and all that, so we weren’t getting like with like and it made the Pump Rooms look much more expensive than it was. And we had a bit of a rumpus about that and because of that we managed to delay the closure of the Pump Rooms, but nonetheless the inevitable happened. The NHS withdrew from the Pump Rooms and once they went there was no way that it would survive...We had approached the Council and said the Pump Rooms aren’t going anywhere, could we do something about it, and they invited us, the two of us, to prepare proposals for what should be done.
WM: Now moving on a bit from there, we then reached the stage where our proposals were quite finite, they were worked out financially, but as always then there was to make the thing tick, this financial shortfall. We had our own financial adviser and he worked in tandem with the team which was working on it and then we finally produced this to the Council, knowing full well that we would need a contribution which wasn’t unreasonable from their point of view, or ours, and that wasn’t forthcoming
MT: We got these proposals which we put to the Council and the Council felt that our proposals were satisfactory. We then had to fund it. We were getting no help from Council. Ken went about getting some funding and in actual fact we had got some funding promised...
And then the Council in their wisdom began to get cold feet about us and it was then that they invited other people to put forward projects and we were part of the project, we were then a member of a group of people that were putting forward projects and we had to go back and revamp our project and do it all over again and when it came to the decision, the other group who were going to do it, they got the nod and we were sidetracked completely, we were out of it.
WM: The...real problem laid with the actions of the Council. They were very happy to allow us to go forward with the knowledge that they were involved with us, but at the same time they weren’t prepared to make that a public statement. They were always, you do all the work, we’ll support you. At the end they didn’t support us. By which time the political football had forced them to go for open bids and alternative schemes. Now, we weren’t prepared to alter our scheme, we just let it lay on the table, they reluctantly did speak to us that night they were doing the interviews, but they’d already made up their mind what they were going to do and so it was a waste of time us being there. We then took the view that with all the political furore that had gone, the publicity and the bad publicity, that it was not good for either of us. I for one felt that we’d done enough and when you can’t do business at the level that we’d supported them at, then it’s best time we forget about it, so the whole thing died and they went on themselves.
WM: We kept a very clean, professional approach to it. We were working the Pump Rooms through for the benefit of the people, we were working it through for the benefit of the town, because it is Royal Leamington Spa and it’s the Royal Leamington Spa Pump Rooms, we were trying to re-establish a modern version of its historic use and to meet the expanding technology which was available at the time, which was all embodied into the proposals as a result of our research that we did at, overseas. The interesting thing about it is that not once did the Council ever say to us, you will ultimately be in competition. They were very, very keen on what we were trying to do, but as always, when it got into the political arena, these proposals were attacked rather differently.
How did you feel when you started to get this opposition?
WM: Well, disappointed in the sense that we felt the Council should have stepped forward and supported us when they knew right from the beginning that we were doing this for the, as a charitable, for a charitable status, that we were doing it for the benefit of the town and we felt that they should have got in and supported us rather than pursue this rather stupid attitude that medicine was self-financing. Which it isn’t. People would pay to go there, there would be financial arrangements with the Health Authority for treatments and that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, because of the amount of refurbishment work that had to be done to maintain the status of the building, there was an imbalance and that’s where the imbalance required the Council to put in some money.