MEN-only sessions at Harrogate’s historic Turkish Baths have been scrapped after repeated complaints of “inappropriate behaviour”, the Advertiser can reveal.
Harrogate Council announced last month that it would be ending the sessions in January, but said the sole reason was down to finances.
This week, cabinet member for culture, Coun Caroline Bayliss, admitted that wasn’t true, saying the authority had been forced to act following repeated complaints about behaviour at the sessions from members of the public, stretching back several years.
“It was the two items taken together,” she said.
“I can defend my decision entirely on commercial grounds and I would far prefer to do so than sully the reputation of Harrogate.
“We have unfortunately had complaints from other male users of the Turkish Baths.
“These are problems that are very difficult for our staff to deal with over a period of a number of years.”
She said the problems related to repeated instances of “inappropriate behaviour in a public place”, and that the baths employed a largely female staff.
Coun Bayliss said she had become aware of the issue in June or July, shortly after being appointed as cabinet member for culture. She immediately ordered a review, which reported recently and announced the closure of the service in January 2012.
On Wednesday, she explained the decision to cover up the real reasons behind the decision by saying it was her responsibility to make Harrogate an attractive proposition.
“My job is to uphold the reputation of Harrogate and that I will do my damnedest to do,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s particularly good publicity.”
Coun Bayliss did insist that the men-only sessions were uneconomical, saying: “We should run it as efficiently as we can and make what money we can, and the men-only sessions are very badly-attended.
“I’m sorry about the break with tradition - I’m one for upholding traditions - but we have to make sure the Turkish Baths is running as efficiently as possible.
“On commercial grounds, it is simply that, but there was this other problem.”
In November, male users of the baths accused the council of sexism over its decision.
At the time, the authority explained its position by saying: “The gentlemen-only sessions have a traditional low attendance - in fact the three a week we hold now is a reduction on what we used to hold.
“The ladies and mixed sessions have a much higher rate of attendance. Like all businesses faced with the difficult economic climate, we have to look at our business model to get the best return.”
The Turkish Baths are one of Harrogate’s most popular attractions. Users on tourism website TripAdvisor describe them as a “fantastic facility”, “the perfect place to unwind” and “a wonderful experience”, though several criticise the decision to stop men-only sessions.
Originally called the Royal Baths, the building was opened in 1897 and extended in the late-1930s. It is one of only seven Victorian baths still in existence.
In the past month, the Turkish Baths have been named one of the world’s best spas in Good Housekeeping, and the best in the UK by Spa Travel.