IT’S OFFICIAL – a new library is to be built beside Halifax Piece Hall.
Council chiefs have confirmed they plan to sell the Northgate House site, including the Central Library and archive, despite concerns over a lack of public consultation on its location.
Consultation over the contents and layout of the new library is now under way.
Calderdale councillors who voted for the latest consultation have admitted they did not realise what they were voting for due to ambiguous wording of the amendment.
Christine Bampton-Smith (Lib Dem, Ludd Foot) said: “I thought we voted to consult on the whole library situation, including its location.” Keith Hutson (Lib Dem, Warley) said: “I voted for consulation but I was happy to leave it to council officers to devise the questions – but I assumed they would cover accessibility issues.”
Independent group leader Colin Raistrick said: “If we don’t ask people where the new library should go, it will just add to the speculation that they are being bamboozled.
“We live in a democracy and we must take into account what people think.”
Robert Pearson (Ind Lib Dem, Warley) said he voted for full consultation and added: “It’s nonsense that we shouldn’t be asking people where it might be built.”
Conservative group leader Stephen Baines (Northowram and Shelf) said his members did not vote against the Lab-Lib amendment because it promised “detailed consultation”.
But the questionnaires which have now been published show that will only be about what the new library should contain.
Tory councillors pressed the council on December 7 to seek people’s views on refurbishing the existing library and archives but their proposal was rejected.
“Moving the library and archive to its proposed site is the only viable option - the decision was made by the council at its meeting on December 7,” said the council’s Liberal Democrat leader Janet Battye.
Economy and environment spokesman Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth and Mixenden) said that keeping the existing library and archive could scare off potential retail developers.
“We are committed to moving out of Northgate House because it would be hugely expensive to refurbish and we no longer need office accommodation of that size.
“The whole of the Northgate site is a key attraction for town-centre shopping and we know that a number of developers are interested.
“Keeping the library could delay any new development. At worst, we could be left with an empty and boarded-up Northgate House.
“What the council is offering is a town centre which has a brand new library and archive and some really exciting shopping,” he said.
Community services spokeswoman Pauline Nash said: “Objectors need to ask themselves whether they are prepared to turn down the chance of a new library and archive, with high quality, modern facilities, plus a revitalised town centre, which can be enjoyed by everyone.
“Developing the Northgate site will bring jobs, it will bring shoppers to Halifax who currently choose to shop in other towns and cities close by, and it will be a huge boost to the local economy.
“In other words, the council’s new plans are all about the future. They would keep the library and archive together and boost our bid for Lottery funding to restore and revitalise the magnificent Piece Hall.”
Halifax Labour MP Linda Riordan said she wanted open and transparent consultation about every aspect of the library scheme.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a big discrepancy between the actual wording of the council minute and how it is being interpreted by the decision makers; the council has made its mind up and this consultation is just a bit of window dressing. All this does is add to the growing feeling across the borough that this whole issue has been monumentally mishandled from day one.
“The council should be secure enough to consult before a decision is made, not after it. It’s very difficult trying to double guess what is going on, but what is clear is that the number of people who want to save the existing library and archives is be growing by the day.”
In a letter to Mrs Riordan, the council’s chief executive Owen Willuiams, said: “I can confirm no further authority is required to proceed with the relocation following the decision made. However, I am aware that cabinet is keen to be personally involved in the consultation and will carefully consider its outcome, and the key messages coming out of it”
At least nine out of 10 people answering a council survey in 2009 said they wanted the library to stay put, and 15,000 signed a petition opposing any plans for change.
The council consultation about what the new library will contain runs until March 12.