On Monday 14 November, the Nottingham Post ran a piece detailing Nottingham City Council’s plans to sell the Central Library building on Angel Row to property developers. The people of Nottingham, including us to an extent, threw their collective arms in the air and started running around in a panic over what the implications of such a deal could be. Well, they took to the internet, as is the way in this day and age.
And rightly so, to some degree. After gaining UNESCO City of Literature status earlier this year, and with one of the lowest child literacy rates in the country, the news seemed to be more doom and gloom than bright and hopeful, and raised more questions than it answered.
Immediate action was taken by Nottingham People’s Assembly: they started a petition that was sensationally titled Save Nottingham Central Library – which, to date, has over 1,600 signatures – and organised a ‘Read In’ at Central Library at the beginning of December that was attended by over 200 people.
It warms our hearts to see that the city and its residents care about the library and its provisions, but we thought we should try and get a few firmer answers on the matter to see what exactly the plans are and why the council has made this decision before we got our pitchforks out.
As Cllr Jon Collins, Leader of the City Council, said in a press release, “The council has always been committed to our central library and library facilities across the city, given the range of services they provide for all citizens.
“Central Library isn’t just a place to borrow free books – it provides services for older people to come and meet and learn to use new technology, for mums and tots, schoolchildren, jobseekers, newcomers to the country looking to learn English, housing advice, access to free computers and Wi-Fi, local history investigation and research, and so much more. It would be ludicrous to lose such important services in a city centre and that has never been our intention.”
Ludicrous indeed. Going back as far as 2007, the Labour Manifesto stated that they would “Seek funding to develop a new Central Library in the city centre.” Reiterated in the 2011 Manifesto, the 2015 Manifesto further pledged, “We want to help families get on in life by providing a good range of leisure activities, free and cheap events and excellent public services, as well as creating a development plan for the new Central Library.”
So this news of development isn’t completely out of the blue – the council have been aware that the Central Library hasn’t been fit for purpose for some time, but money has been too tight to do anything about it with Central Government funding cuts to Nottingham.
During a meeting with Cllr David Trimble (the Portfolio Holder for Nottingham Leisure and Culture) and Nigel Hawkins (Head of Culture and Libraries) this week, we put to them the questions that have been buzzing around everyone’s heads. And it seems to us that, although there’s going to be upheaval, the library’s future is something to look forward to.
The building is indeed to be sold to Henry Boot Development Ltd, who have proposed redeveloping the site from a 30,000 sq ft four-storey building into a 100,000 sq ft nine-storey building accommodating Grade A offices. They are also hopeful that the current facade will be retained in the development. The real good news, though, is that approximately 20,000 sq ft of this space is earmarked for the new library and it will be let at no charge to the council. They have made it clear that there is no possibility of a Nottingham City Centre without a library. In addition to the library space, the council will be able to raise income from the rental of the remaining space within the property, although it will not be ring-fenced for library services.
Cllr David Trimble stated that it was a high probability that the library would remain on Angel Row, but they do have an alternative site in mind if this plan doesn’t come to fruition. He was also keen to point out that it was a land deal and not a property deal, and that after thirty years, the property’s lease would revert back to the City Council, meaning they will not be losing out on important city centre space.
Once the deal has been finalised with Henry Boot Development Ltd, there will be a year of due diligence where details such as planning permissions, designs and planning will be arranged. In the meantime, the Contact Centre will more than likely be moved to Loxley House, Station Street, and they are determined to make sure that disruption to services are kept to a minimum.
There will not be a like-for-like service in place, and they don’t want to be unrealistic about promising something they can’t deliver, however they will try and maintain as many of the services to their fullest. Important collections, such as Local Studies, will be kept in the city centre where they are most easily accessed by the public.
The new library will be designed with a view to its long-term function and what the city’s residents need – the councillors discussed how they want to define the place of the library in society and are committed to directly running them.
The entrance to the new library, if it remains within the the Angel Row site, will be prominent and on Angel Row itself. Although they are aware that the footprint of the library will decrease, they don’t believe that the current 30,000 sq ft space is being used to its full potential and therefore it being within a smaller space will not have an impact on the services it can and will provide.
At the time of the meeting, full plans have not been confirmed, so Cllr Trimble and Nigel Hawkins could only answer our questions to the degree of their awareness. They do, however, want to keep the public updated and involved as much as possible as the development moves forward.