Volunteers and parents are calling for a “fantastic, irreplaceable community space” to be repurposed rather than demolished so a car park can be extended.
Bath and North East Somerset Council has drawn up plans to level the Parkside Children’s Centre after repairs grew costly and said replacement facilities will be available nearby.
But mum-of-two Vishaka Robinson called on the authority to consider the wartime building’s importance to the community and back an alternative use.
Bath Foodbank and Bath Elim Church are both interested in taking it on.
Speaking at Tuesday’s annual general meeting, Ms Vishaka said: “The centre provides a huge range of children’s services and parental support and is a social hub for the area.
“It is proposed that it will move to space approximately half its current size on Charlotte Street.
“There is huge concern about the traffic and pollution this move will bring. The proposed area will be short stay so the 100 spaces will generate a constant flow of traffic. The Charlotte Street car park already has capacity for 1,056 cars, making it the largest car park in central Bath.”
She said the building should be retained for Bath Foodbank or, if it is to be demolished, it should be replaced with an electric bike share station.
Councillor Paul May, the former cabinet member for children’s services, said the building was suffering from a lot of repair problems and was costly to maintain.
Speaking after the meeting, he said the council had listened to the community and the facility was only moving a short distance away, rather than across the city.
In a response to a freedom of information request, B&NES Council said the Parkside Children’s Centre is “costly to run and because of its design cannot be renovated to a standard required for efficient 21st century requirements”.
It added: “The opportunity to bring both teams onto a single site in order to offer complementary and comprehensive support to families will be beneficial for many vulnerable families.”
There have been numerous objections to B&NES Council’s application to demolish the children’s centre to create another 104 parking spaces.
The building is not listed but Historic England said it “plays an important role within the Bath Conservation Area and the wider social and cultural history associated with wartime Bath”.
The body said the premises was established as a British restaurant in 1941/2, providing communal kitchens by the Ministry of Food to those who had lost their homes in enemy bombing raids and those who had run out of rationing coupons.
The Bath Preservation Trust said: “The loss of the building would undoubtedly impact negatively on the longevity of communal memory and interpretation about the wartime experience in Bath.
“Another rare physical survival of wartime history in Bath should not be swept away for car parking without a meaningful debate.”
In his comments on the application, Bath Foodbank management committee chairman Tim Harris said the charity has been seeking alternative, economically viable premises within the city – its current warehouse facility in Batheaston is inadequate and there are health and safety concerns for the volunteers.
He added: “We would like to investigate using Parkside as a more appropriate storage facility for food donations and hopefully as a distribution centre.
“Having both on one side would make logistic and environmental sense. There may be scope to share the use of the premises with other community services.”
Mr Harris said the food bank would fit well with the original purpose of the heritage building.
Bath Elim Church minister Kevin Nelson said the children’s centre is a “millstone around the neck” of those who want to extend the car park, but argued that it is a “fantastic, irreplaceable community space” that would be lost forever.
He said the church would be willing to take it on, potentially in a partnership, and it could support the homeless, refugees and young people.
He added: “I understand the desire to extend the car park, however this is extremely short-sighted. Let’s not be reactionary and left somewhat embarrassed by spending any money on a car park project that will be obsolete in five to seven years.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Kevin Guy, the new cabinet member for children’s services, said: “I’m very much keen on keeping the building open and not knocked down for a car park.
“Having children’s services in there would be a good idea.”
B&NES Council will decide the fate of its planning application.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter