What’s the next chapter for Central Library as China deal collapses?

With the collapse of Sheffield’s £1 billion deal with China, what does the future hold for the historic Central Library?

Wednesday, 10th July 2019, 11:39 am
Updated Thursday, 11th July 2019, 17:11 pm

The grade II listed building was at the centre of the deal with hugely controversial plans to redevelop it into a five star hotel.

Council chiefs say work is still ongoing about the future of the building but they are struggling to find the £50m needed to renovate the Art Deco building.

Coun Mazhr Iqbal, cabinet member for business and development, said: “The library is a very difficult project, it needs millions spending on it and I wish we had the resources to do that but unfortunately we don’t.”

When asked if another private developer would be approached, he said: “My colleague Mary Lea leads on this and she hasn’t approached me and said can you go out and try and find somebody. As far as I am aware the position is to keep it as a public building.”

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It’s almost three years to the day since the council signed a 60-year partnership with Sichuan Guodong Construction in what was supposed to be the biggest Chinese investment outside London.

An initial £220m deal promised millions in foreign investment into the city over three years, and up to £1billion over the following 60 years.

The agreement gave owner Wang Chunming exclusivity over redeveloping the Central Library. The council said the art deco building needed £30m worth of repairs, which it cannot afford.

The Sichuan Guodong Group was given 12 months to explore plans to redevelop the historic building into the city’s first five star hotel.

But Sheffield residents were furious at the plans and almost 9,000 signed a petition calling for the building to be kept as library. Sheffield born actor Michael Palin described the proposals as “an embarrassment” for his city.

Coun Iqbal added: “This last nine years the local authority has been hit by cuts and Northern cities have been hit that bit harder.

“With smaller libraries, thankfully communities stepped forward but with Central Library we were talking about rooftop restaurants and just trying to find a way to keep this historic building that’s rich in history but we don’t have £50m or £60m to invest.

“If you stop people on the street, do they want me to put that money into the library? Some will and some won’t. It’s a tragedy that it’s got into the position that it has.”