‘Relocating Central Library would be an act of cultural vandalism’

Stephen Williams is a Liberal Democrat politician and was a councillor for Bristol’s city centre in the 1990s and MP for Bristol West from 2005 to 2015. He was Minister for Communities and Local Government during the Coalition Government.

Bristol’s Central Library is under threat of being closed down and relocated to a new site. The future of one of Bristol’s most distinctive and well used public buildings has been thrown into doubt by the Mayor including it in his mix of options for spending cuts to balance the council’s budget.

The Central Library is housed in a landmark Edwardian building on College Green, by the cathedral and City Hall. It is a treasure trove of learning and culture set in an architectural gem. The building is listed grade one for its architectural merit and was purpose built at the beginning of the 20th century to provide a magnificent setting for the city’s library and many of its historic archives.

Since 1906 millions of people will have passed through its doors to borrow a book, read a newspaper or periodical, look up historic records or do some research on some aspect of Bristol’s history. For the last 30 years or so I’ve been one of those people.

I’ve sat in the magnificent upstairs hall of the reference library to read the newspapers on hundreds of occasions, at least until the Mayor scrapped the service last month. I’ve used the desks to look at records of Bristol’s history and to research my own family history, including my Bristol ancestors. While MP for Bristol West I held many of my weekly advice surgeries there and met people in the library café. It’s hard to imagine Bristol without this superb facility.

‘It’s hard to imagine Bristol without this superb facility’ - Stephen Williams, former Bristol MP
‘It’s hard to imagine Bristol without this superb facility’ - Stephen Williams, former Bristol MP
‘It’s hard to imagine Bristol without this superb facility’ - Stephen Williams, former Bristol MP

I understand that all councils are being squeezed financially by central government. But Bristol’s financial hole is deeper due to the folly of its own leadership. Over £40 million was blown on propping up a failing energy company. Huge sums have been wasted on the Mayor’s fantasy project of a Bristol Underground. All of this money has been wasted while basic and essential city services are cut.

Bristol’s Central Library is in a building well designed for its purpose that still works well today. It is already in the best possible location, centrally located for walking and public transport and near to the city’s other main public buildings. Moving it and selling it off for a less appropriate use and relocating it to a worse location and almost certainly downgraded size would be a travesty.

The Mayor has got a fight on his hands if he thinks he can get away with what would be an act of cultural vandalism.