Two months ago, I reported on the proposal that, as part of the current set of City Council cuts, the Bristol Central Library should be moved from its current location to as yet undetermined site.
Even though this was just an idea being floated around by the Mayor and his cabinet as part of a collection of Council cuts, many alternate sites were considered that were big enough to house everything that the library holds, from books to documentation.
There is also the issue of finding a location that can provide the ideal conditions to store the archive which the Library holds. The archive material needs to be kept at below room temperature conditions. Too hot for too long and kept in sunlight for too long and it just shrivels up, losing any history that material holds. That’s why books go yellow after a while.
So finding a building that has a basement that can be kept at below room temperature for extended periods of time is essential or else we’ll lose an enormous amount of history. So what can replace the building that was built with the Library and City archive in mind when it was erected?
Everything has been suggested from the unoccupied Debenhams building in the City Centre to a brand-new build elsewhere in the City.
But this has been far from a popular idea.
Almost as soon as the proposed cuts were published, everyone from Heritage Building lovers on Twitter to former MPs of that area were absolutely outraged at this. Many, including Lorraine Francis, have pointed out that the current Library building in is owned by the Council itself, incurring no cost and that a move would incur a hefty cost and provide no savings whatsoever.
After petitions, online articles and several Hotwells & Harbourside candidates standing on this issue, Mr Rees announced on his Twitter that these plans were not going ahead. He said:
“Due to continued national under-funding, as well as historic inflation and rising demand for services, Bristol City Council faced an almost £88 million financial gap …We have taken time together to consider proposals, after Eileen (Labour candidate for Hotwells & Harbourside) spoke to many of her fellow local residents … After discussing the idea of relocating Central Library, we are pleased to confirm that updated budget plans going to Cabinet for consideration later this month will keep Central Library in its current home.”
When asked to comment on this new move, Lorraine Francis was delighted by the news but cautious as to what the future budget might hold:
The announcement that the Labour administration are no longer planning to close Bristol’s treasured Central Library is welcome news. Unfortunately it fits into a cynical pattern of the administration threatening a community resource and then “saving it” from themselves. Next week’s budget announcement will shed light on whether the city’s other 26 libraries will also be protected from cuts.
Greens across the city successfully campaigned to protect Bristol’s libraries under the previous Mayor in 2015, and when Labour last threatened cuts to the service in 2018. We will fight for libraries and other key services, in this year’s budget although I am aware that we are going to be expected to support the budget. I feel strongly that as a local politician, I have to be principled, open and honest about impact of the ongoing cuts on society as a whole, ensuring that I am not simply going along with the notion that we have no money therefore cuts are inevitable. The current and future administrations must continue to fight austerity and unrealistic budgets.
The candidates for the Ward by-election have all put out statements about the move.
Green candidate, Patrick McAllister said
“Bristol’s Central Library no longer being under threat is extremely welcome news. But this fits into a Labour pattern of threatening a community resource and then “saving it” from themselves.”
Independent candidate (who has since withdrawn from the election), Martin Booth said:
“The very fact that Central Library was threatened shows just how out of touch Labour are with the sentiment of our city. Even the Labour candidate for Hotwells & Harbourside pledged to save the library from closure. So today is great news but news that should never be happening.”
And Lib Dem candidate, Stephen Williams said:
“How marvellously cynical. The Labour Mayor “saves” the Central Library from *his own* closure plans, in the middle of an election, just to save the Labour candidate from electoral humiliation. I’ve been campaigning on this for weeks and know the lasting damage done to Labour.”
There were many on Twitter who pointed out that this was an extremely cynical move on Labour, including Patrick McAllister and Stephen Williams, given that there’s an election just round the corner and many people took positions on this issue. Given the phrasing of Mr. Rees’ original tweet, saying Labour is “saving” the Library from its own cuts makes it seem like Labour’s position will be “We listen to locals, look, we saved the Library from Council cuts”.
Whatever the reason, Bristol Central Library is going nowhere and that’s a win for Bristolians all over the city. The Library will be staying in the building that was built for it in the city centre, for all to access.