B&NES firmly told by the public: don’t move Bath Library

By Becky Brooks   |   Editor   |
Wednesday 11th October 2017 1:00 pm
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A public consultation on where to locate an integrated Library and One Stop Shop for Bath has seen the Podium win out as the preferred location. Moving the library into Lewis House, in Manvers Street, into the current One Stop Shop has proved very unpopular with local campaigners, and so it is now likely that the reverse will happen – with the One Stop Shop in Manvers Street moving to the Podium instead.

In Midsomer Norton, a similar proposal to move the Library into the Hollies’ One Stop Shop, has seemingly had little reaction.

Between July and September this year, the Council asked members of the public for their views on where would be best to co-locate the Library and One Stop Shop out of two viable options – the Podium or Lewis House.

A total of 1,891 people responded to the public consultation – details of which were shared on the council’s website, via social media, in libraries and one stop shops, GP surgeries, leisure centres, and children’s centres. The consultation was publicised in the local media, and steps were also taken to ensure that people from hard-to-reach groups and the care agencies were able to give their views. Information from other meetings such as Full Council, Scrutiny and interest groups were also fed into the consultation process.

The results of the consultation show that nearly 92% of respondents opted for the Podium as their preferred location for the combined Library and One Stop Shop. This preference was echoed across nearly all demographic and user groups recorded. The full results are available on the Council’s website, along with the Cabinet papers.

In light of the consultation findings, officers are recommending that the Cabinet agree to proposals to locate the integrated service of the library and customer services in the Podium as part of a modernisation programme safeguarding the future of both services. Integrating these services in Bath will help save nearly £400,000 a year as part of the Council’s wider Modern Libraries programme, which is expected to save up to a total of £800,000 a year by 2020.

Councillor Karen Warrington (Conservative, Clutton), Cabinet Member for Transformation and Customer Services, said: “By integrating our Library and One Stop Shop services we can both improve the service we offer residents and ensure it is sustainable for the future.

“Bringing both these services together under one roof not only makes sense financially, but it will also strengthen both services for the future. Once the decision is taken over the location, the next step will be working with the community to design the layout of the upgraded facility. I know that some people have raised concerns over whether there will be a reduction in library facilities or books; so I hope that through this design process, those with concerns can be reassured that this is not the case. I believe this represents an exciting opportunity for the Council, local community and other service partners to work together on a project that will enhance both services.”

Councillor Tim Warren, (Conservative, Mendip), Leader of Council, said: “The future location of Bath’s Library has sparked much passionate debate in recent months, demonstrating just how valued this service is by residents. I would like to thank all those who have taken the time to respond to the consultation and given their views at various forums in recent weeks.

“It is clear from the consultation responses that there is overwhelming support for the Podium as the location for the Library and One Stop Shop, and this is obviously something the Cabinet will take on board when it meets.

“Whilst other councils are closing libraries, I’m pleased that here in B&NES, we are investing in the future of our libraries and developing innovative solutions that both protect our library service and put it onto a sustainable footing for the long-term.”

The Cabinet was due to meet on Wednesday this week as The Journal went to press to agree the location. Subject to the Cabinet’s approval to proceed with the recommended plan for the Podium, further community engagement will take place during the design phase to ensure that the integrated library and One Stop shop meets a wide range of customer needs. 604 people expressed an interest in taking part in the design of the integrated facility.

The next phase includes briefing, engagement and design works up to tender stage and it is anticipated that this will take place between November 2017 and May 2018.

Opposition Councillors have spoken out about the findings and subsequent turnaround in the decision, with the Conservatives, prior to the consultation, hoping to move the service in to Manvers Street. Councillor Richard Samuel (Lib-Dem, Walcot) commented: “This is sadly, yet another example of the out-of-touch Conservative administration pressing ahead with poorly thought out plans.

“They have already had to partially rethink the proposals they put out to the public; now they are presenting the ‘least worst’ option as having won support when residents all along preferred the status quo. The Conservatives have wasted a lot of time and caused a lot of unnecessary stress for those who love the library.

“No matter how they may try to spin it, the whole exercise has been a huge waste of taxpayer’s money with its manipulated consultation and faux arguments. The pretence that this was a modernising project and not a pure cost saving exercise has been exposed for the sham that it was.

“Now it is time for the Council to begin to reinvest in our main library, to make it the gem it should be for a truly World class City instead of a branch library. Going forward, we want to be sure that the incorporation of the One Stop Shop services is not to the detriment of Library services – space for book stocks, study, children’s activities and reading must be maintained.

“The Conservatives were given the opportunity by the Lib-Dem motion to the last Council to withdraw from the path of self-destruction but chose to press on regardless.”

Tim Warren, Leader of B&NES has recently criticised Lib-Dem Councillors for their last motion, calling it “reckless and irresponsible.” He said: “On the one hand they are not opposed to the principle of co-locating services, yet on the other they wanted to blow an £800,000 hole in the Council’s finances. By putting off decisions needed to put our library service onto a sustainable long-term footing, it would simply put them at greater risk in future.”

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