A debate has been told that moving Lichfield library would reinvigorate the city and safeguard two landmark buildings.
Staffordshire County Council discussed plans to switch the facility to St Mary’s in the Market Square at a meeting yesterday (May 19). The proposals would see the existing site at The Friary redeveloped into residential accomodation.
But more than 5,000 people signed a Save Lichfield Library petition forcing councillors to debate the proposals once more.
Cllr Ben Adams, Cabinet member responsible for libraries, told the meeting the proposal to move the to St Mary’s on a 30-year lease was an exciting opportunity.
He said: “At a time when other authorities have been closing libraries, this proposal guarantees the presence of a first class library in the centre of Lichfield for the next 30 years and, at the same time, safeguards the future of two landmark buildings for future generations.
“The library at St Mary’s will have a significant amount of money invested in it and to suggest that it will somehow provide less of a service is simply wrong.
“In Stafford the new main library is deliberately smaller than its predecessor. As well as the books it’s also got wifi, touchscreen tables, large computer tablets and two state-of-the-art 3D printers.
“Membership there has risen by 80 per cent in six months and we see that as a template for the service’s future, particularly in places like Lichfield, where the number of active users, visitors and book loans have all fallen by a third over the last 10 years.”
Campaigners have criticised a lack of consultation over the plans, claiming a previous examination over the future of Staffordshire’s library service did not examine the move to switch the site in Lichfield.
But Cllr Adams said the proposals didn’t warrant a specific consultation.
“We are elected to make decisions and consultation is required when the council is changing provision of service,” he said. “That’s not happening here – we’re committing to a first class library less than 10 minutes’ walk away from the current one.
“That’s not just my opinion. The council was contacted by The Consultation Institute about this issue. The Institute is a not-for-profit body dedicated to promoting the highest standards of public consultation and it said it saw no reason to consult on this proposal.”
“I’ve met people face-to-face in Lichfield Library and elsewhere who’ve raised this with me and when I’ve explained the reality of what we’re proposing they are supportive.
“This proposal is also backed by Lichfield District Council, The Guild of St Mary’s, the county council’s all-party Prosperous Staffordshire scrutiny committee and the City Centre Development Partnership as a way of increasing footfall, boosting the heritage heart of the city and supporting local traders.”
A motion to receive the petition and consider it alongside any other submissions and the business case was passed by the meeting.