Now look, I know that the current Tory/Liberal Democrat administration have suffered from a lack of vision since they took office - largely because they each wrote a manifesto in the certain knowledge that they wouldn't have to put them into practice. A perfect plan, if Labour hadn't fumbled the ball and allowed the dynamic duo of Whitless and Superstud to collect more councillors. John Hemming focussed his attentions on raising his profile [insert your own jokes here] to win Yardley and left Teflon Mike the job of running the city. Ideas were needed - and fast.
So, we get the lunacy of the Blunderground and the scrapping of the Richard Rogers' designed library at Eastside - scrapped for no other reason than it was a Labour plan and all things planned by Labour are bad. The next problem was how to house those book thingies taking up valuable redevelopment space in the City Centre. Landfill wasn't an option - although to judge from the Tory attitudes in recent years, I suspect it may have been considered.
In the end, they have had the brilliant idea of TWO libraries, in some bizarre buy-one-get-one-free deal. So, the citizens of Birmingham who want to borrow a book and use the reference library will have to trek between Centenary Square and Eastside. Genius. That's the only expression that covers this decision - at a stroke, the physical fitness of Brummies can be improved. Never mind that this plan will end up costing almost as much as the original, single-site plan. There's also the question of running costs. At a stroke, Whitless has doubled many of the operational costs of the building and I'm prepared to place a small bet that there won't be any extra money in the already over-stretched library service budget to support it. We've already had libraries going to their local councillors begging for a share of the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund money to sustain operations. So, what's for the axe first? Acquisitions? Opening hours? Perhaps just closing a few more libraries would do it.
I'm not going to make a particular case for the Richard Rogers design - just to point out the stupidity in splitting up the collections. And I wouldn't bet my salary on these plans coming in on budget anyway - remember the £200 million underground system that now costs out at £2 billion? For all the Tories' whinging that Labour were big on promises and short on delivery, this is no better - this has been knocked up on the back of an envelope. We've actually gone backwards on where we were twelve months ago. There's no architect working on this, there's no funding in place and there's no real prospect of it happening - incidentally, how can you have such a precise figure without a detailed plan? If this is genuinely the best value option for the City, let's see the consultants' report on the library, which has been buried quietly. It is a fairly safe bet that if the report supported the decision of the administration, then Whitby would have made sure that the press got hold of it.
While he may be a 'small-town politician without ambition,' Whitless could make a contribution. If he places his nice black MG SV at the disposal of the library users, the 15 minute walk could be slashed to a few seconds. Oh, no - sorry, he's going to talk to the bus companies about arranging a shuttle service. I'm sure they'll be amenable, Mike, especially with your administrations well-known support of bus users - many of whom are delighted that your transportation poodle is scrapping bus lanes.
Whitless has mastered the art of talking cobblers, though. Without any supporting evidence beyond his own self-belief, he proclaims that:
'The Library of Birmingham will foster social inclusion by creating a new facility that breaks down intellectual barriers, helps to change perceptions of learning, and draws in new users from under-represented and minority groups.'