The original consultation pages on the proposed new library and archive on the Council's website included 'Key messages' about the plans. These are reproduced below with DBOL's comments shown in red.
· Northgate House and the Halifax Central Library and Archive buildings are expensive to maintain and are not fit for purpose for our customers. It is more cost effective to sell the site and build a new library. To refurbish Northgate House would cost up to £15 million, and to refurbish Halifax Central Library and Archive would cost up to £6m.
Not fit for purpose? In whose opinion? This is blatantly untrue. The archive facilities are acknowledged as the best in Yorkshire and there are few better in the country outside Kew. If we take “customers” to be local residents, 95% want the library to stay where it is.
Details to justify these costs have never been published despite repeated requests
· The Council listened to the views of local people in the library consultation in 2009 – and is proposing to build a new central library: within walking distance of the bus and train stations; retaining the archive in Halifax; and accessible for all.
· The new purpose built building would provide our customers with a state-of-the-art modern library of an appropriate size.
What is an appropriate size? The footprint of the new building is less than 60% of the present building. (See sketch below) No details have been published of how the archives are to be accommodated within this footprint. Some of that proposed footprint includes the site of the Industrial Museum workshop, which is essential to plans being developed to re-open the museum.
· We know from our experience with King Cross and Hebden Bridge libraries that more people use new facilities. 600 libraries are due to close across the UK in the next 2 years – we want to invest in our central library.
Then invest in the present excellent facilities on the existing site.
New buildings may hold a novelty value but what will attract and retain library visitors are the facilities inside the buildings. Those in the present Central Library are already very good, and could be brought up to the latest standard without demolishing the existing building.
· Visitor numbers using our archive have been falling – by keeping it in Halifax in a state-of-the-art library we will reinvigorate people’s interest.
Could the falling visitor numbers have anything to do with the reduced opening hours?
· Businesses want to invest in Calderdale and local people want better shops and leisure facilities. We want to seize the opportunity to safeguard Halifax’s economic future, bring jobs and visitors and join Halifax’s exciting developments together.
The Broad Street and Pennine Centre developments provide opportunities for new shops. These should be completed and filled before reserving even more of the town centre for shops.
· The new central library and archive supports the Piece Hall redevelopment and creates a vibrant cultural quarter with Square Chapel and Orange Box.
Any benefits are highly speculative, and at a cost so far unknown. And why should culture be restricted to its own “quarter”? What plans are being hatched for the Victoria Theatre, the new cinema in Broad Street, Dean Clough and Halifax Playhouse, which clearly do not fit in with this vision?
What are we doing?
Cabinet has resolved to:
· Build a brand new central library and archive next to the Square Spire, adjoining the Piece Hall.
· Sell the Northgate House / Halifax Central Library and Archive site to make way for an exciting new non-food retail development.
· Sell the Heath site to locate Council services together and help pay for the new library.
Why are we doing it?
Who decides what is “better”?
· Halifax needs more retail space in the future. The recent Strategic Retail Needs Assessment update in 2010 identified the need for at least a quarter of a million more square feet of comparison retail space (e.g. footwear, clothing, recreational goods) in Halifax by 2026.
In the light of recent economic developments world-wide, how can anybody predict what shops will be required anywhere in 15 years time? How are these projections carried out? Were predictions made 15 years ago of what we would require in 2011, and did they foresee the explosion of online shopping?
· For years, people have shopped in nearby towns and cities which have offered more choice. The Council wants to reduce this leakage of consumer spending outside the town.
Let’s digest the Broad Street and Pennine Centre developments before we destroy any more of Halifax.
· Bringing bigger and better shops to the town centre is long overdue. Under the proposals, a redeveloped Northgate site could provide larger retailer stores to meet the needs of retailers currently not located in the town centre.
Better shops don’t necessarily have to be bigger.
· People have already told us that they want to see a more vibrant town with better shops and leisure facilities.
16000 people have already told CMBC that they want the Central Library and Archives to stay where they are.
· Redevelopment of the Northgate site presents a marvellous opportunity for development of a sought after retail site, to build on the back of the shortly to be opened Broad Street Plaza development which will offer new restaurants, hotel and cinema for the town.
· This development will ensure that the whole of Halifax becomes an attractive destination for shoppers. More people shopping in Halifax town centre is good for all retailers and businesses, and will give greater choice for residents.
Halifax is not just for shoppers. These improvements are being pushed through without regard to the detrimental effect on other users of Halifax town centre.
Halifax is one of the few towns without a conglomeration of clone stores, and that is one of its attractions. Bringing those clone stores into Halifax will destroy much of its individuality and will not stop people going to out-of-town sites such as White Rose, Meadowhall, Trafford Centre.
· This proposal would:
o Represent a major investment in the town’s future.
A much smaller investment in the existing Library and Archive facilities could achieve a similar effect
o Attract more shoppers to the town centre by offering a range of exciting shops.
But it would attract fewer visitors to the library, archives and meeting rooms.
Primark? Exciting? We are not going to attract shoppers away from Leeds or Huddersfield by building a Primark. Halifax should be looking to service niche markets, attracted by the town’s heritage, architecture and culture.
o Provide a much-needed boost to the local economy by increasing footfall and creating hundreds of new jobs.
What evidence can anybody table that the net change in footfall will be up or down? This is an aspiration, not a fact, and opinions differ on how best to achieve it
o Provide a natural link between The Piece Hall, Woolshops, bus station and Broad Street Plaza development.
The links are already there, or is it proposed to build new roads between these sites?
For a better Central Library and Archive:
· Because we’ve built two new libraries recently, we know that new libraries attract more users. While other councils are closing libraries, we’re reaffirming our commitment by investing in a new central library and archive for the future.
New buildings may hold a brief novelty value but what will attract and retain library visitors in the long term are the facilities inside the buildings. Those in the present Central Library are already very good, and could be brought up to the latest standard without demolishing the existing building. The new “central” library will not be central!
· The proposed new purpose-built library and archive will enhance the cultural quarter, based around the Piece Hall and the Square Chapel.
And remove all vestiges of “culture” from the Northgate quarter. What is the great virtue in concentrating culture in one area on the edge of town?
If additional culture is required near the Piece Hall and Square Chapel, why not provide some gallery/exhibition space to replace that which will be lost in the changes proposed for the Piece Hall?
· The location, adjoining the Piece Hall and with a link between the two buildings, will help to increase footfall in the new library while also increasing library use.
But any increase, which is far from certain, will be from a base that has already been reduced because of the relocation from the central site adjacent to the bus station.
· The current library and archive, which would require significant investment to bring it up to an acceptable standard,
but this investment, even on the council’s own, contested estimates, would be no more than half the cost of the new, much smaller facility
would close at the time the new library and archive has been completed, so there is no significant disruption to customers.
· The proposed new library and archive would give better access for older people and people with disabilities
This statement beggars belief. Access for the majority couldn’t be better than at the existing site. This presumably refers to the claim that the lift isn’t big enough for a wheelchair to turn round, but surely it would be more cost-effective to replace the existing lift shaft than the entire building. Has the possibility of adding an external lift shaft to the building been explored – another opportunity for a startling design in glass.
· The archive would be purpose-built, in order to make the best of the material stored there. It could become a genuine learning resource, opening up the archive for more use by schools, students and visitors.
This implies that the current facility is not a genuine learning resource! The present purpose built archive already attracts students and visitors in large numbers. Nothing has been published so far to dispel concerns that the new site will not provide nearly enough room to hold the present archive materials, let alone having space for the collection to grow – which archives do.
· The proposed new library and archive is on a better site than that which was proposed for Broad Street Plaza - but on a worse site than at present - because
· It is closer to the town centre (than Broad Street but further away than the present location) and people will not need to cross a busy main road to get to it (but presumably it’s ok for people to cross the busy main road to get to the new drop-in centre?)
· It will be an integral part of the proposed Piece Hall development, creating a cultural quarter – again, why is this a virtue? What about all the cultural venues elsewhere in the town?
· It will be nearer to the town’s railway station and walkable from the bus station
In fact, the new facility will be further from the bus station, and the term ‘walkable’ is highly subjective, with different meanings to, say, a forty year old, an eighty year old, or a parent with two young children, a pushchair and several bags of shopping.
· and will have access directly from the refurbished Piece Hall
For better Council services for the public:
The Council is already looking at ways it can work more efficiently. This option would mean that it could:
o Make full use of the buildings it already owns and rents, and staff working smarter such as hot desking and working from home
So why not retain the current buildings on the Northgate site which are in council ownership rather than rent expensive office accommodation at Dean Clough (Human Resources) and Broad Street.
o Save money by selling of Northgate, which has become increasingly expensive and difficult to manage
The problems here have been grossly exaggerated for political purposes.
o Support the new Customer First facility proposed in the new Broad Street Plaza – where customers can access a full range of Council services in one place.
This facility could easily be created in council-owned buildings such as a re-furbished Northgate House, or in the present Library building, without needing to pay rent.
When will this happen?
Further work will now be undertaken to establish timescales for the proposal. If the Council decides to go ahead, then initial indications are that the new central library and archive could be open in 2015:
· By Spring 2012 – assessment for office accommodation; study for site near Piece Hall for the new library and archive
· By Autumn 2012 – begin work on office accommodation for relocating staff; submit planning consent for new library; begin marketing of existing Northgate and Heath sites (submit planning consent? Something of a presumption here?)
· By Spring 2013 – relocate staff to alternative premises to allow vacation of Northgate House and Heath sites. The Halifax Central Library and Archive will remain open to the public until the new library opens.
· Summer 2013 – construction begins on new library
· Spring 2015 – new library opens
How is this being paid for?
· The sale of the Northgate House / Halifax Central Library and Archive site will contribute to the total cost of the new library. If we kept the site, we would have to spend up to £15 million to refurbish Northgate House and up to £6 million to refurbish Halifax Central Library.
Even if these estimates could be substantiated, this does not – or should not – rule out keeping the present Central Library, which would be half the cost of the proposed new one.
· The cost of running the ageing Northgate site is around £½m a year. Costs will be mitigated in the future if the Council disposes of the building and relocates staff and looks at different ways of working.
Do not forget the predicted annual £300,000 rent for the presence in Broad Street – and this will cover only the proposed Customer First one-stop-shop.
Services for Northgate House and Central Library and Archive are shared and to sell Northgate and retain the library would cost around £830,000.
This is a one-off cost to separate services which, we are assured by CMBC, is feasible.
· With better use of existing resources, and better ways of working, the Council will be in a position to sell the site at Heath, which is situated within an area of significant demand for residential and food retail use. This will also contribute to the cost of the proposed new central library and archive.
Assuming a buyer can be found who will pay the asking price and that the current users can be relocated at no additional cost.