Victorian baths saved by cult TV show still in ruins

Thanks to bureaucratic delays, work has yet to begin on the winning building in last year's BBC heritage competition

It was the surprise first winner of Restoration, the BBC's popular heritage show. The derelict Victoria Baths in Manchester beat off competition from historic monuments and mansions to scoop a prize of £3.5m and the chance of a return to its former municipal glory.

Restoration has become cult viewing among Britain's chattering classes. Tonight will see the final of the second series, in which viewers will vote to "rescue" one of eight endangered buildings.

But one year on, the Victoria Baths are yet to see the start of work after a series of bureaucratic delays, it has emerged. There is no starting date for the project, nor a target for its completion.

Britain now has an international reputation for its inability to manage complex design and infrastructure projects. The troubled sagas of the Dome and the Wembley reconstruction have proved particularly damaging.

Last year, Victoria Baths in Manchester triumphed over the 13th-century Greyfriars Tower in King's Lynn and the Grade-I listed Darnley Mausoleum in Kent.

Ironically, the losers could be restored faster than the baths, as they have now been awarded grants by the Heritage Lottery fund.

The building work on the Victoria Baths might not even start in time for a third series of the programme, next year.

Visitors to the baths, which once boasted three pools, a Turkish bath and an art nouveau interior with stained glass and tiles, are so baffled by the lack of action that the BBC is preparing information packs to explain the delay.

No work can begin until plans are finalised for the £18m renovation of the entire site. This includes developing a business plan for re-opening the main pool which, controversially, may mean developing part of the building for flats or as a leisure centre. The baths are dealing with a plethora of funding bodies, including English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and tight conservation rules.

A BBC spokeswoman said the baths illustrate the problems facing historic sites. "We always knew it was a long-term thing," she said. Tonight's final is expected to pull in three million viewers. The show is made by Endemol, the company behind Big Brother.

THE FINALISTS 2004

Sherborne House, Dorset

A Grade I-listed stately home from 1720 built by a well-known Dorset family, the Bastards of Blandford Forum. A complete restoration and an Elizabeth Frink sculpture garden are planned.

Newbridge Memorial Hall, Gwent

The 1908 Celynen Collieries Workingman's Institute and Memorial Hall was built by local miners, with a dance floor, a theatre and cinema. The complex could become a community centre.

The Playhouse, Derry

Sited in the 19th-century buildings of two former schools, the Playhouse is one of Ulster's busiest arts centres. But it is in need of restoration. Schoolchildren linked hands around the city walls in its support.

The Old Grammar School, Kings Norton

The 15th-century building is on the English Heritage "at risk" register. The school would be reopened to teach local history. A separate house would become a community centre.

Gayle Mill, Yorkshire Dales

Built in 1776, this was a water-wheel powered mill. Later it became a saw mill. Restoration would create a workshop for timber products and a centre for forest management.

Archbishop's Palace, Charing, Kent

The Grade I-listed palace was built in the 1100s as a stopover en route to Canterbury. The plan is to restore access and create a home for the parish council and community events.

Knockando, Moray

Powered by a water wheel, the woollen mill is the UK's most complete example of its kind. About to collapse, it will cease work when the current owner retires. If it wins, the mill will become a working museum.

Bawdsey Radar Station, Suffolk

Built in 1939, the station helped pioneer radar and was an important part of Britain's air defences during the Second World War. The proposal is to restore the station as a museum.

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