When I was living in Bristol and was allowed outside because there was no global Pandemic ongoing, one of my favourite places to visit was the Central Library. Its location is right next to the Cathedral City Hall and College Green with the iconic Wills Tower just up the road, a lovely (if noisy) part of town. And the building the library is housed in is simply beautiful.
Also next to the Library is the Abbey Gatehouse, built in 1170 and currently a Grade 1 Listed Building. It’s one of the few Abbey Houses that survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which made the Bristol’s St Augustine’s Abbey into a Cathedral.
The Deanery wasn’t so fortunate, being demolished in 1906 to make way for the Library building, which was influential in the development of Edwardian architecture and replaces the old public library on King Street.
Well now, there’s talk of moving the location of the Library from its 116 year old home as part of a scheme for the Council to save £45.7 million across five years from 2023 to 2028.
Rumours already abound that Cathedral Primary School or its neighbouring secondary school could now make use of the rest of the library building, after the former moved in to the lower floors seven years ago.
Other ways the council is proposing to make savings include changes in the foster care system, cuts to the ‘Sustainable City and Climate Change’ services and to “stop, reduce, change, or pause activities to make savings and reduce staff costs” to the Council’s parks services.
About these changes, Mayor Marvin Rees has said in a press release made on 11th November
“In my recent State of the City address I promised the people of Bristol that we would do our best to support the city through this crisis but that we can’t pretend to hold off all of the hardship. These savings proposals put forward the harsh reality of that challenge.
“If we are to continue to meet our statutory obligations including providing housing, delivering care for the elderly and disabled, creating school places and helping people through the cost of living crisis, we are going to have to be prepared to let go of some of the things we’ve fought hard to protect over the past six years.”
Personally I am unhappy about the Library leaving its current residence. There are plenty of other proposals in the consultation that I agree with that would help reduce expenditure – like raising taxes in certain areas.
And I am not the only one. I reached out to my contacts in the Bristol City Council and got this quote from Eastville Councillor, Lorraine Francis:
“I am very concerned by the vague proposal to ‘move’ Bristol’s central library and fear this could mean the permanent loss of a treasured, historic cultural asset in exchange for what may be a relatively small saving – or in the long run perhaps not even a saving at all.”
“The bulk of library spending is on staff not location, and any move will incur a hefty bill. Once the costs of a ‘replacement’ were factored in (if a site is available) the council could end up having to spend more money than initially saved, or lose a central city library altogether – this is what happened in Birmingham after library cuts, when a new replacement central facility was deemed unaffordable.”
“Like many of the cuts in the proposed budget, the current Mayor will no longer be around to deal with the longer term consequences of this decision. I recognise the Council is facing massive financial difficulties but councillors need much more information to examine the implications of these proposals.”
Writing for BristolWorld, former MP for Bristol West, Stephen Williams equated a move from its current location to “… an act of cultural vandalism”:
I understand that all councils are being squeezed financially by central government. But Bristol’s financial hole is deeper due to the folly of its own leadership. Over £40 million was blown on propping up a failing energy company. Huge sums have been wasted on the Mayor’s fantasy project of a Bristol Underground. All of this money has been wasted while basic and essential city services are cut.
Bristol’s Central Library is in a building well designed for its purpose that still works well today. It is already in the best possible location, centrally located for walking and public transport and near to the city’s other main public buildings. Moving it and selling it off for a less appropriate use and relocating it to a worse location and almost certainly downgraded size would be a travesty.
The Mayor has got a fight on his hands if he thinks he can get away with what would be an act of cultural vandalism.
And if they must find savings somewhere, maybe they can start on the self-indulgent Bristol Underground rail network, which will cost £4 billion just to construct and will take over 10 years to come to fruition. The Mayor has secured a £15 million grant just for the planning of it.
It’s also hard to see how moving from the current building will save money in as convenient location as the current one. The current library building is huge, with two floors and has a massive archive which is kept in tip top condition.
Relocation would mean renting, building or buying buildings just as large and it would need to be state of the art in order to keep all the archives in an appropriate atmosphere to preserve what’s this heritage.
The current building is owned by the City Council and is therefore no additional burden on the Bristol taxpayer.
The consultation can be found here: https://www.ask.bristol.gov.uk/budget-2023-24.
The end date is the 23 December 2022, so there is time for you to have your say on the future of this city.
Please send any comments to [email protected]