About face! Now the public will get a say over Halifax library

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COUNCIL leaders have done a U-turn over a new library in Halifax.

At last, they have agreed to ask people whether they want the existing building refurbished, rather than a new one beside the Piece Hall.

Liberal Democrat leader Janet Battye and Labour leader Tim Swift insisted they wanted an “open debate” when councillors voted to begin consultation on December 7.

But a questionnaire published at Christmas only referred to what the new library might contain, prompting fury from Conservative and Independent councillors, who claimed they were misled.

Conservative leader Stephen Baines wants a special meeting to thrash out the issue but Lib-Lab leaders have tried to avert that, saying they will issue a further consultation document. “This will ask everyone whether they agree or disagree with plans to create a new library.

“We believe developing the Northgate site for retail will bring new stores, add life to the town centre and create jobs. Now it’s up to people to say whether they agree.”

The change of heart has been prompted by Labour councillors who decided the library consultation was “too narrow”.

Halifax Labour MP Linda Riordan even sought Government intervention.

It has taken the Liberal Democrat group a week to fall into line and sanction what is officially described as the next phase of consultation, which will run until March 12. The wording of the second questionnaire is expected to be confirmed later today.

But whatever the response, the council’s chief executive Owen Williams has confirmed that as a result of the decisions taken at the council meeting in December, no further authority is required to proceed with relocating the library.

Councillor Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said: “If we control the council after the May elections, we will review any decision on the central library and ensure the wishes of the people are adhered to.”

The council has produced drawing of what a new building might look like but has been unwilling to speculate on cost.

However, it says restoring the existing library will cost up to £6 million.