Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse has called on Conservative-run B&NES Council to end the ‘shambles’ they’ve created over the future of Bath’s Central Library.
She said: “It’s a mess. The Conservatives decided behind closed doors to merge the Central Library with the One Stop Shop in Lewis House. But Lewis House is completely unsuitable for the Library; it would need £6m spent on it before the first book is moved.
“There was no consultation, and they didn’t seek the views of the library’s many users. I’m not surprised that local people were outraged.
“Now that the campaign to save the Library has grown, they’ve finally caved-in under pressure and launched a consultation, but whilst many people will be away on holiday.”
The next consultation runs from Thursday 20th July until Friday 15th September online, and with physical copies of the plans at libraries across BANES.
Campaigners have complained that there is no option in the consultation to leave the Library alone.
Wera Hobhouse added: “I haven’t seen a good case for moving the Central Library, so it should stay where it is. It’s time for the Council to bow to the inevitable, accept that they made a mistake, and abandon the idea of a move to Lewis House.
“There’s little or no evidence to support it in their own business plan. This should have been a consultation on whether or not to merge services. What we’re now left with is an urgent need for assurances that library services will be protected, along with staff. It’s a complete shambles.”
Ms Hobhouse’s comments come following an independent building survey, published on 11th July, that raises significant questions about the suitability of Lewis House as a library site that can welcome disabled library users.
Cheltenham-based Chartered Surveyors Bevans reviewed both the Podium and Lewis House sites from a disabled access position, in a report commissioned by B&NES and dated 29th March 2017.
Bevans raised serious concerns about integrating a library service with a One Stop Shop at Lewis House, stating the site ‘would prove intimidating to many disabled groups, particularly those with learning disabilities and visual and hearing impairments’ and ‘services spread over three floors will be confusing and challenging for many user groups, particularly due to the low ceilings’.
Save Bath Libraries campaigner Caroline Ambrose questioned the council’s stated objective of the ‘Modern Libraries’ integration plan being about inclusivity.
She said: “One of the wonderful things about Bath Central Library’s current Podium site is it’s one of the few places in Bath where all walks of life mix easily and inclusively. According to this report, moving the library to Lewis House would significantly exclude and/or alienate disabled members of our community.”
While Bevans was full of praise for the Podium library’s purpose-designed, clear and spacious layout, they caution against introducing a One Stop Shop to the premises.
Bevans notes that the significant uplift in footfall arising from adding the One Stop Shop in the Podium would require the addition of extra lifts and toilet facilities: “What is sufficient for a busy retail store, café and library, is unlikely to be sufficient for an intensified use of a library and office space.”
Concern is also raised about the impact on accessibility of introducing a busy and confusing One Stop Shop suite of council offices into currently clear and navigable layout.
Dionne Pemberton of Save Bath Libraries said: “We’re gravely concerned that we’re looking at another Park & Ride scenario. Councillor Martin Veal is forcing residents to entertain two unviable sites and spending public money on expensive reports and surveys whose findings he then ignores.
“Why has Martin Veal recommended a library in Lewis House if he’s had this report since March 29th?
“Why has council rebranded the integration model’s target as ‘inclusion’ when the proposed site so heavily discriminates against the disabled? Cabinet needs to think again before pushing forward with a costly consultation while ignoring their own reports.”