At last! Public are given their say over Halifax’s new library... in Nova Scotia

Members of the public at the first of five consultation meeetings during the consultation period for Halifax Central Library, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Members of the public at the first of five consultation meeetings during the consultation period for Halifax Central Library, Nova Scotia, Canada.
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AS CALDERDALE Council tell us the location of the new library has already been decided, our Canadian brothers are leading the way in public consultation.

In a bizarre coincidence, building has just begun on a new Central Library in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Calderdale Council’s consultation process kicked off with an online questionnaire focusing only on what will be inside the building.

But in Canada, the consultation process included FIVE public meetings, each one attended by up to 250 members of the public.

Marlo McKay, from Halifax Public Libraries in Canada, said: “The purpose of these public consultation sessions was to develop a design for the library with input from the community.

“At each of the five meetings, the architects were present. Each meeting had a theme and began with a presentation by an architect.

“People were seated at tables in groups and were asked a question that related to the theme of the meeting. Then they discussed the question and wrote down key themes that emerged from the discussion.

“The meetings were designed to hear the public voice. The key themes that came out of each table discussion were gathered and posted in a central place in the room.”

At each meeting the architects brought their developing plans showing how they had taken public opinion on board.

Their meetings, which were streamed live on the internet for people who couldn’t attend, took place from June 2010 to November 2010 – whereas Calderdale Council’s consultation process will last three months.

Even the decision to build a new library, expected to cost around 55million canadian dollars, was taken by the local community.

Mr McKay said: “In 2005, the land became available and the municipality asked people what they wanted to see on that land. Public opinion was on the side of putting a library there to replace our ageing downtown branch which is just across the street from the new site.”

Back home, Coun Barry Collins (Lab, Illingworth & Mixenden), spokesperson for economy and environment, has insisted that the consultation process will be extensive and will listen to what the public have to say.

“The questionnaire was simply the initial step to launch the consultation. We plan to meet a range of local groups, inlcuding Mumsnet, Calderdale College and library users,” he said.

“The council’s view is quite clear. It feels the answer to the various issues is to dispose of Northgate House but also to resite the library and archive at the Piece Hall, releasing Northgate for potential retail developments.

“This is about the future of the whole town centre. We want the fullest possible public debate.”