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Save Central Library

November 30, 2022

Bristol’s Central Library is under threat of being closed down and relocated to a new site.  The future of one of Bristol’s most distinctive and well used public buildings has been thrown into doubt by the Mayor including it in his mix of options for spending cuts to balance the council’s budget.

The Central Library is housed in a landmark Edwardian building on College Green, by the cathedral and City Hall.  It is a treasure trove of learning and culture set in an architectural gem.  The building is listed grade one for its architectural merit and was purpose built at the beginning of the 20th century to provide a magnificent setting for the city’s library and many of its historic archives.

Since 1906 millions of people will have passed through its doors to borrow a book, read a newspaper or periodical, look up historic records or do some research on some aspect of Bristol’s history.  For the last 30 years or so I’ve been one of those people.  I’ve sat in the magnificent upstairs hall of the reference library to read the newspapers on hundreds of occasions, at least until the Mayor scrapped the service last month.  I’ve used the desks to look at records of Bristol’s history and to research my own family history, including my Bristol ancestors. While MP for Bristol West I held many of my weekly advice surgeries there and met people in the library café.  It’s hard to imagine Bristol without this superb facility.

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. 

It is unclear why there would be any saving by moving the library to another location, possibly in one of the empty shops in Broadmead.  The council would have to pay rent at any new location, whereas it owns the College Green site.  Furthermore, since 2014 the lower two floors of the Central Library have been let to the primary school of Bristol Cathedral School.  At that time dozens of constituents contacted me as the local MP, opposing the plans.  I was reassured by an undertaking from the council that the financial gain to the council would be reinvested in the library. The school paid a lease premium of £600,000 and since then the annual rent should have been at least £60,000.  That should be more than enough to cover the increased energy costs of heating the library in recent months.  Local Lib Dem councillor Alex Hartley will be raising this issue at the next meeting of the city council. *

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.

Petition

Bristol Liberal Democrats have a petition against the Mayor’s plans.  You can support it here https://www.bristollibdems.org/save_central_library

Update 13 December 2022

At the meeting of Bristol Council it was revealed that the current level of rent received from the cathedral school is £81,750 per annum. Staffing costs in 2021/22 were £1.6million. Other revenue costs such as repairs, cleaning and energy were quite variable year to year. In a verbal response to cllr Hartley the Mayor compared campaigning for saving the central library to “chasing the moon on a stick”, a metaphor you hear rarely but which is meant to suggest a pointless pursuit of the unattainable. A curious attitude to a core city service that has existed at its current site for 116 years and at an earlier site since the 17th century….

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