Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reference the Library

Here we go again - the annual saga of the Birmingham Library.

To recap, Labour had plans for a new Library of Birmingham to replace the crumbling concrete monstrosity of the Central Library. Those plans were ready to progress to a full business case to support a PFI application, but when Whitless and Hemming did their dirty deal in 2004, that was trodden underfoot as the Tories swept the Council House clean of the Labour plans that they didn't like. Back in 2005, after much consideration, the grand idea was vomited forth by the massed brains of the Tory/LibDem leadership.

Despite a report by outside advisors that recommended a single-site option, the council decided that users would be best served by splitting the functions across two, widely-separated sites. They submitted a cobbled-together bid for PFI credits which was, unsurprisingly laughed out of contention. Back then, I predicted that we wouldn't see any work on the new library this decade - while the historic archives stored under the sewage pipes in the Central Library continue to be put at risk. I even noted that successful library bids for PFI funding all seemed to share the connection of being single-sites.

So, imagine how surprised I wasn't to see the headline in the Post this week announcing that Whitless is about to make yet another policy U-turn and scrap the idea of a split site library.

So, for all his posturing about how little Labour did to advance the library plan (apart from the international design competition, buying the land and preparing to bid for money), Whitby has added another three years' delay to the whole process. In fact, he's added far more, because we are really back to square one - no site, no plans and no chance of getting the money to build it.

Somebody, please. Sort out this waste of political space.


Pugin said...

The Champagne Socialist, Lord Rogers, as designed by. Would undoubtedly look good on a plaque on any building. But being a socialist and being upwardly mobile with an ever expanding bank balance does not make his designs the right choice for Birmingham.
If all decisions were taken by name and nepotism,competition for the greater good would be dead.
Those who design for Richard Rogers are good, but there contempory designs have a short shelf life. Should we re-visit Birmingham in 30 years times, I have no doubt those in power will be discussing a building programme as we are now, in respect of buildings of 30 years ago.
Get it right now and it will be here for a lifetime. You only have to look to our own Town Hall, Council House and even the Palace of Westminster to prove this point.
So I for one can wait for the right building as opposed to a grand plaque.

Moseley Blogger said...

My recollection (poor it may be) is that the Labour funding scheme was predicated on some pie-in-the-sky scenario that was never going to happen. That was WhitbyCo's inital claim, IIRC. I can believe that claim even in the face of evident incompetence in other matters. Anyone can see that the previous administration mismanaged a lot of property deals.

Pugin has a good point: get it right once, build a proper replacement, and have a monument with some integrity. A library is too important to do wrong - and many libraries have been done very badly by star/chitects. I just hope they put it in Eastside, in the new 'learning' corner.

Anonymous said...

One other point to ponder re the "crumbling concrete monstrosity of the Central Library". Why is it crumbling? Answer 20 years of complete lack of building maintenance by the previous socialist administration. As for design and location of the replacement the one thing the great and wonderful Sir Albert never quite got round to proving was where the money was to come from. Lots of words spoken but if I am right he had NOTHING in writing guaranteeing any funding. Typical of the socialists who did nothing but squander rate payers money whilst things like libraries, schools, swimming pools and especially the housing stock went to rack and ruin.

Pugin said...

Perhaps in response to the comments from anonymous, Sir Albert would like to invest some of the vast fortune he has amassed through being Leader of the Labour Group and have designers add a crypt to the plans of any library built. Therfore ensuring his ego has a final resting place and place for his faithful lapdog (Ward the terrier of Shard End), to be able to pine the hours away like a modern day "Greyfriar's Bobby".

PoliticalHack said...

I hold no particular torch for the Lord Rogers building - I'm well aware that all too many of these grand designs seem to develop design flaws.

My point is that there was a proposal that had a plan on the table. There had been an international design competition and funding was rather further advanced than it is now. Nothing was signed and sealed, but the project was ready to progress to full business case to substantiate a formal bid.

The whole thing is right back to square one at the moment. The past two and a half years have set the redevelopment of the library back a decade.

PoliticalHack said...

Oh and those with longer memories will remember that the last Tory administration scrapped the great Victorian library in favour of the current monstrosity.

The problems with the current building are only partly connected with building maintenance, but rather more to do with the building life expiring and the decay in the concrete - which only unreasonable amounts of maintenance costs will hope to recover.