City Hall ‘obvious suggestion’ for relocation of Central Library as figures reveal rising cost of library site

Mayor Marvin Rees has also said talks have started with developers in city centre on other possible sites
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Bristol’s City Hall has been touted as an ‘obvious’ relocation site for the Central Library by the city’s mayor - as figures released by the council reveal repair and maintenance costs for the site have risen fivefold in five years.

Bristol Central Library has been located at its Grade-I listed College Green site for more than a century - although Bristol City Council has suggested moving the library next door to reduce running costs. The authority needs to make at least £45.7m in savings over the next five years with the library service’s budget proposed to be slashed by about a third – £1.4million from last year’s funding of £4.6million.

During a council meeting this month, Stoke Bishop councillor, Henry Michallat raised concerns over the relocation of the library and asked the mayor to reveal possible alternative sites, aside from the former Debenhams store as reported by Bristol World earlier this month. Mayor Rees responded by naming City Hall, adding that initial talks had begun with developers on sites the council owners in the city centre.

He said: “This is an initial proposal for consultation and no decisions taken. City Hall is an obvious suggestion as it is next door and offers benefits of co-location, but as has been mentioned we’re in early conversation with city centre developers on sites where we have the freehold.

“It could be attractive as a way to improve the library offer with a modern, purpose-built facility in a much more accessible location. Given the funding pressure on Local Government caused by the Conservative government’s inept handling of finances, we find ourselves in a difficult position, but we must make the best use of the assets we have.”

The basement and lower ground floor of the Central Library are currently occupied by Bristol Cathedral Primary School, and there has been speculation that the school could look to take over the entire site. Councillor Michallat asked if the school would change its plans for the site as a result of a potential relocation of the library.

Mayor Rees replied: “This is an early-stage budget proposal for consideration and consultation and we don’t yet know the details. There are no plans, but as you state the nearby primary school might be interested.”

In the same meeting, called a members’ forum, Hotwells and Harbourside councillor Alex Hartley asked Mr Rees how much income had been generated from the lease of the lower floors of the Central Library to Bristol Cathedral School Trust. He also asked what the annual running cost of the Central Library had been over the last five years.

The council revealed that the lease of the lower two floors had brought in £81,750 per year for the council, which was ring-fenced as income to the library service. Meanwhile, figures also showed the library has steadily accrued a higher running cost since 2017. While figures for staffing costs were not available for 2017/18 and 2018/19, due to different accounting practices, total running costs for the site have increased by just under £300,000 since 2019/2020.

A big factor in the increase was the cost of repairs and maintenance, which have gone up fivefold in five years to £153,000.

There has been strong opposition to the plans to relocate the Central Library since the idea was proposed last month as part of a consultation on budget savings, which will end on December 23.

Last week, the Lib Dems presented a petition to a full council meeting calling on the council to scrap all plans to relocate Central Library. The petition was signed by 751 residents from across Bristol, and further signatures from neighbouring authorities. Former Lib Dem MP and prospective councillor for Hotwells and Harbourside Stephen Williams said the move would be ‘an act of cultural vandalism’ in a piece written for Bristol World.

Running costs of Central Library