The Friary should not be sold off to “line the pockets of developers”, the leader of the local Labour party has warned.
Staffordshire County Council has proposed moving Lichfield Library to St Mary’s in the Market Square.
The current home at The Friary could then be converted into residential accomodation.
The proposals have sparked a public backlash, with an online petition organised by the Green Party who have also collected thousands of signatures in the city centre in recent weeks.
However, Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the Labour group on Lichfield District Council says moving the library may make sense in the long term – but warned any changes to the ownership of The Friary should be carefully considered.
“Although The Friary site is an attractive one to house Lichfield Library, it simply hasn’t had the usage or footfall that it should have for a long time now,” she said.
“On the other hand, St Mary’s is much more accessible and visible and will hopefully ensure that far more people access library services. It also makes this prime city centre site much more viable and secures it for the future.
“I have been concerned, though, about The Friary just being sold off to the highest bidder. It’s currently a public asset and should be used for public benefit rather than flogged off to line the pockets of developers.
“I have mooted an idea with some senior members at both Lichfield District Council and Staffordshire County Council that it should be considered for extra care housing for older and disabled people.
“It’s an ideal site, close to shops and public transport routes,a ndw ould hopefully release other houses locally for families.
“They have indicated to me that this idea could well be considered and I hope it would get public support too.”
Cllr Ian Parry, deputy leader of Staffordshire County Council and cabinet member for strategy, finance and corporate issues, said providing the best value for taxpayers would be crucial – and warned work to transform it into a care home would be difficult to achieve.
“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.
“This delivers best value for taxpayers, balanced with the building having an appropriate use.
“The proposed sale of the Friary will preserve the building’s appearance and safeguard its future in the heart of the city. I understand that the Grade II listing would make it very difficult to carry out the internal alterations necessary for it to be converted into a care home or something similar.”
He added: “It’s important to remember that this proposal not only safeguards the future of a building which needs almost £1.4 million in repairs, but safeguards the future of St Mary’s with a 30-year commitment to have a first class library in the middle of Lichfield.”
The Green Party’s petition has gathered momentum over the past week.
But Cllr Woodward has accused them of whipping up fear amongst local residents.
“The Greens really should arm themselves with the facts before they take to the streets and hype up public anxieties,” she said.
“I certainly share their concerns about the future of the Friary site and the need for proper consultation but what next? A petition against a nuclear energy plant in the district? A campaign to stop children being allowed to sweep chimneys again?
“These may be issues that are close to their hearts but their campaigns really do need to be based in reality.”