Something must be done to prevent closed listed buildings, such as Manchester's once-proud Victoria Baths, from falling into rack and ruin
No, i am not going to write about Picketts Lock, Wembley, or the on-again-off-again saga of a national stadium. Not this week, at any rate.

Our subject today is swimming; to be precise, swimming pools in listed buildings. For some years I have been working with local residents to reopen the Victoria Baths in Manchester, which are located in an ornate grade II-listed building nearly a century old. Manchester council, a local authority altogether too inclined to close swimming pools, shut it in 1993. In its heyday, the Victoria Baths provided three swimming pools, 64 wash baths, and a Turkish baths suite.

Local residents were not ready to cave in and accept the closure of Victoria Baths, so they formed a trust to reopen it. The sums of money required for even a partial reopening are enormous, far beyond what private citizens have any hope of raising. Still, the trustees have fought on, obtaining funds wherever they can and alerting past and potential users to the plight of the baths by holding open days. They have at least been successful in preventing this lovely building from falling into dereliction.

Recently, Gill Wright of Victoria Baths Trust organised a group of campaigners to meet me at the House of Commons. Victoria Baths is not the only example of a listed swimming pool that has closed down; such edifices exist all over Britain. In London, for example, there are about 20 public swimming pools and two public lidos that are statutorily listed. Of these, seven pools and one lido are closed, with at least one other under threat. Such was the persuasive power of the campaigners who came to see me that the culture, media and sport select committee of the House of Commons is currently conducting an inquiry into the fate of these swimming pools. Witnesses have come from Manchester, Glasgow, Hackney and Soho.

The issues raised by the campaigners are wide reaching. The listed pools campaigners have highlighted a problem that is connected with large numbers of listed buildings of all kinds. English Heritage lists the buildings, and does so with due thought and responsibility. Demolishing a listed building is very difficult to achieve, even by a local authority willing to apply for a compulsory purchase order. Protectors of our heritage oppose such orders, and they can be rejected.

Listing is a marvellous idea, but no government has been prepared to accept its responsibility for the system

So what happens next? The structure of the building is saved, but there may be nobody willing, or financially able, to prevent it becoming derelict and vandalised, let alone kept open and run as a going concern. In the 1970s, when I was responsible for built heritage as a minister at the Department of the Environment, representatives of the London Boroughs Association came to see me, frantic with concern about the number of listed buildings that they were expected to deal with. They had responsibility for these buildings, but with all the other calls on their funds, they had insufficient money to carry it . I sympathised with them but was unable to offer a solution.

A quarter of a century later, with that Labour government gone, a Conservative government that seemed to care enough about such issues to create a Department of National Heritage also defunct, and a new Labour government securely installed, the problem remains and no solution whatever is in sight. True, provision has been made for redundant churches, and that is good. Unfortunately, the prayers of lovers of secular listed buildings have been less effective. God has influence, but Mammon will not come to the rescue.

Listing is a marvellous idea in theory, but no government of any party has been prepared to accept responsibility for the implications of that system.