Hotbed of controversy at Harrogate's famous Turkish Baths
A Harrogate resident who knows and loves Turkish Baths is locked in a long-running dispute with Harrogate Borough Council over the ending of men-only sessions.
It may not sound the world’s most important controversy but the unusual series of claims and counter-claims over alleged sexism against men has so far led to two Freedom Of Information requests and two internal reviews by the council itself.
Throughout Harrogate Borough Council has denied the whole thing but the wrangle shows no sign of coming to a conclusion after nearly five years.
Travel writer Peter Lilley’s original complaint was triggered when the council announced in November 2011 it was scrapping men-only sessions at Harrogate’s famous Turkish Baths in the former Royal Baths building on Parliament Street.
As someone who was a regular customer at Harrogate’s historic baths himself for many years, the decision puzzled Mr Lilley who has visited Turkish Baths in many countries from Tunisia all the way to, it has to be said, Turkey.
In his view, it all boils down to a simple question of fairness - towards men.
He said: “If you genuinely believe in the concept of equality, you can’t pick and choose about when it should be applied.
“While I understand people normally think of equality in the context of women seeking the same opportunities and benefits as men, in the case of the Turkish Baths, it’s men who are clearly being discriminated against.
“While some people may find that notion awkward and uncomfortable, I don’t feel at all embarrassed about speaking up for men’s rights.”
In addition, Mr Lilley claims the council’s actions breached the terms of The Equality Act 2010.
But as early as December 14, 2011, the council’s chief executive Wallace Sampson said he did not re gard the decision to end men-only sessions as discriminatory “as we provide a service jointly for both sexes.”
Harrogate Borough Council say the decision to end men-only sessions in favour of mixed sessions and women-only sessions was made purely on business reasons.
A spokesperson said: “Harrogate Borough Council’s decision to end men-only sessions was made after carefully considering attendance levels.
The council runs the Turkish Baths on behalf of the district’s council tax payers and it is important that they are commercially successful. “
But Peter is sticking to his guns. He believes at least part of the reason may have been fears raised at the time that the council had been forced to act following alleged complaints by members of the public about “inappropriate behaviour”.
Nonsense says the council.
A spokesperson said: “A review of the Turkish Baths programme in 2011 highlighted that attendance at men only sessions had declined an average of 17 attendances per session and was lower than for other sessions.”
So far, Mr Lilley has submitted two FOI requests to the council but, unhappy with the responses, these have led to two internal reviews by the council into how they handled those requests.
The council seems to be doing it by the book. But there’s one Harrogate resident who isn’t going to give up.
Will the dispute be resolved? What happens next?
Harrogate resident Peter Lilley has so far made two FOI requests to HarrogateBorough Council, the first in January, 2012 and the second in October 2015 . The council says it is currently undertaking two reviews concerning the Turkish Baths.
The first is examining a response to Peter Lilley’s last Freedom of Information request, which has been conducted by the council’s Director of Corporate Affairs, and will conclude imminently.
The second is a review into the current service provision at the Turkish Baths and considers its current business performance, customer demand and will include an Equality Impact Assessment.
It will examine evidence of demand for all forms of service provision, whether mixed or gender specific.
The review will be used to shape future programming at the Turkish Baths and is due to be completed in July 2016.