Harrogate Turkish Baths steps closer to decision on scrapping single-sex bathing sessions
A long-running debate over whether to scrap single-sex bathing sessions at Harrogate's Turkish Baths could soon be concluded after a four-week consultation on the potential move ended.
Harrogate Borough Council, which manages the baths, is preparing to make a final decision on plans to reintroduce a timetable consisting entirely of mixed sessions to better reflect “equality and balance".
It would bring an end to an almost nine-year-long debate on the issue after the baths first stopped male-only sessions in 2011 following alleged complaints by members of the public about “inappropriate behaviour”.
The sessions were then reintroduced five years later and an online survey was launched last month as part of another re-think on the decision.
The baths said scrapping single-sex sessions once again would be "a positive development allowing greater access to all our customers".
"We're considering the removal of single sex sessions from the timetable at the Turkish Baths in Harrogate to reflect the increase spotlight on equality and balance across the world," it said.
"This change will allow complete accessibility during the opening timetable to all genders."
In 2011, Harrogate Borough Council said it ended all-male sessions because of financial reasons.
But then-cabinet member for culture, Coun Caroline Bayliss, was forced to defend claims the decision was taken because of "inappropriate behaviour" by visitors.
Coun Bayliss said at the time: "The council did consider some incidences of inappropriate behaviour at the baths during these sessions and believes that the repetition of such problems would be unlikely as a consequence of ending the gentlemen only sessions.
"To run sessions that are under-used doesn’t make economic sense in these hard financial times."
The baths said responses to the recent consultation are now being analysed.
Reports will then be presented to a meeting of the council's cabinet member for culture, tourism and sport, Coun Stanley Lumley, before a final decision is made by cabinet.
No dates have been set for either of the meetings.It comes as the baths will reopen for treatments this Friday after five months of coronavirus closures.
During the closures, the baths carried out emergency repairs to prevent its damaged interior becoming dangerous. Harrogate Borough Council said it had commissioned almost £30,000 of repairs to stop it becoming "severely damaged".
The Grade II-listed building with its Moorish design, Islamic arches, glazed brickwork, painted ceilings and terrazzo floors is historically complete.
A £1.5m restoration scheme in 2003 was the last large-scale work to be carried out on the baths, before a smaller scheme to reveal high ceilings and convert a blocked-off area into a treatment room was completed in 2018.
The baths opened in 1897 and have been managed by the council since the late 1990s.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter