Councillors have been warned that Lichfield Library was “a gift to the people of the city” and should not be sold off.
Staffordshire County Council has unveiled plans to move the library to St Mary’s in the Market Square to allow for The Friary site to be converted into residential properties.
Cllr Ben Adams, Cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, said talks over the future of the site were ongoing.
“No decision has been taken, but talks with the Guild of St Mary’s – which operates the building – and the Diocese of Lichfield – which owns the building – are progressing well,” he said.
“If the move is approved it will allow the Friary, which needs more than £1million of repairs, to be given a new lease of life. St Mary’s will have a long-term tenant with guaranteed income, and the cost to the county council of providing a first class library to the people of Lichfield will be halved.”
But the Lichfield & Burntwood Green Party says it intends to fight the “scandalously undemocratic” move.
Robert Pass, chair of the party’s local branch said selling to a private developer was not in the public interest.
“The Friary site was gifted in 1920 by Richard Cooper MP for the ‘permanent use and benefit of the citizens of Lichfield’,” he said. “It’s an important and historic public resource for the people of Lichfield and surrounding areas.
“It is not just a library building, but a fantastic community hub.
“The plan to relocate to St Mary’s in the Market Square will be compromised. The proposed footprint is half the size, so the space for books, computers and community groups will be greatly diminished.”
The council says St Mary’s will be the perfect home for the library given the Friary requires £1million of upgrades.
But Mr Pass – who stood for the Green Party at the 2015 General Election – said there needed to be a more open process before any sell-off is agreed.
“We can all accept that library services are evolving and that public funding is being slashed, but let’s have an open and democratic public consultation about the future of the site, rather than doing a ‘cloak and dagger’ deal with a developer agreeing to sell the site behind closed doors and then presenting it as almost a done deal,” he said.
“For a long time, the county would not disclose the strategy for disposal and some details of the deal have only recently been disclosed.
“To achieve the disposal of the whole site requires the library and record office to move out. The county council is obviously motivated by the financial pressures they are under rather than the local community benefit the services and site provide.
“Once the site is sold, it will be lost to the people of Lichfield forever.”
An online petition has now been launched by the Green Party and members will be in the city centre on Saturday (March 12) to collect signatures.
The Green Party have launched an online petition calling for a proper public consultation on the site and will be in Lichfield city centre this Saturday (12th March) collecting signatures and seeking the views of members of the public.
Cllr Ian Parry, deputy leader at Staffordshire County Council, said the move would secure the site long term.
“Instead of leaving buildings mothballed or allowing them to fall into disrepair, we have a county wide programme aimed at breathing new life into surplus and underused buildings to bring new jobs, homes and fresh investment into the county,” he said.
“Our review of buildings has been in the public domain for some time and given our proposals in Lichfield will not only allow residents to benefit from a more central ground floor library, but will also safeguard the future of the Friary building, which is need of almost £1.4million of repairs.
“It is a little surprising that the Green Party should suddenly object.”