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Future of Victoria Baths in doubt

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It is still unclear when the project to renovate Manchester's Victoria Baths, the winning building on 2003's wildly successful Restoration television programme, will get under way.

The scheme to save the Turkish baths - which is being worked up by Austin-Smith: Lord's Manchester office - remains beset with unanswered questions over the extent of work required and the pool of money available.

Project bosses cannot give a date when any significant work will begin on site.

One of the chief problems is that the estimated cost of renovating the entire baths complex stands at over £18 million, while the resources earmarked for the scheme from the television success were just £3.5 million.

Austin-Smith: Lord conservation director Chris Pritchett said that there are still many significant problems to overcome.

'We have done a lot of investigative work on the building to find out what needs to be done and found that we think that the Restoration money would probably best be spent on making sure that the Turkish baths at the front of the building are safe.

'But this doesn't mean that they will be ready to be used, as it will cost more money than is earmarked to get them ready for public use.

'There are a lot of decisions that still need to be made. For example, we need to find out whether local people will actually come to them - a business case needs to be made, ' he added.

Pritchett also emphasised that, contrary to public perception, the Restoration cash was not sitting waiting to be used. 'All we have is an in-principle agreement that we can use the money. But we still have to make a Lottery application to get hold of it.

'It is conceivable that we could put in a bid for Lottery money and hear back within six months, but we need to decide the extent of the work that we need to carry out first, ' he said.

'It's extremely difficult at this stage to guess when and if the baths will ever reopen to the public - there are just so many variables, ' Pritchett concluded.

The BBC's Restoration series features neglected historic buildings and invites viewers to vote on their favourite, which is promised money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Victoria Baths was the winner of the first series in August 2003. The BBC is believed to be planning to air a new series this summer.

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