The politician in charge of Birmingham's civic swimming pools and leisure centres has reasserted his belief that facilities built 70 or 80 years ago should be knocked down and replaced by modern buildings.

Councillor Ray Hassall was criticised when he first raised the subject before Christmas after his remarks were interpreted as a threat to the future of Moseley Road Baths, which face a £20 million-plus restoration bill.

Speaking at a meeting of the full city council yesterday, Coun Hassall (Lib Dem Perry Barr) made it clear that he would do everything possible to fully re-open the Moseley Road Baths.

However, Coun Hassall, who is the cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, said he stood by his belief that it would be more cost effective and provide a better leisure service to demolish pre-war buildings with high maintenance costs.

He made no apology for claiming it would be "barmy" to continue pouring money into modernising old buildings. The council would be creating a long-term financial problem if it insisted on paying the cost of repairing and maintaining the buildings rather than looking to build new multi-purpose leisure centres, he said.

Coun Hassall likened the problem to a dilemma over whether or not to keep a much-loved car after seven or eight years. Rather than repairing it when it wouldn't start, it would be better to buy a new one. He added: "We can no longer carry on putting in millions. If we are going to get people involved in sport we need to provide modern facilities.It's barmy to keep sticking in money.

"My plan is to ensure our citizens get the best modern facilities which will then be well used." Repair bills for Moseley Road Baths range from £20 million to £23 million for either keeping the existing pool open and using the second pool as a community area, or bringing both pools back into use.

The council is likely to submit a bid for cash help to the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

 Councillor Hassall said he had written "in the strongest terms" to the Arts Council deploring a decision to axe a £324,000 grant paid to the Birmingham Opera Company.

The Arts Council move has put in doubt the future of the company, which last year won rave reviews for its production of La Traviata.

Coun Hassall pointed out that the grant decision remained a recommendation at the moment and could still be overturned by the Arts Council.

He added: "Birmingham Opera Company is involving people in opera for the first time in their lives. We need to protect it."

But Coun Hassall stopped short of committing the council to a rescue plan if the Arts Council refuses to back down.

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