Sheffield Council facing '˜significant costs' for planned library move

Sheffield Council faces '˜significant costs' if it goes ahead with plans to allow the Central Library to move to a new location to make way for a five-star hotel.
Sheffield Central Library.Sheffield Central Library.
Sheffield Central Library.

A report going to a council scrutiny meeting on Thursday said full estimated costs for the proposed scheme are yet to be finalised.

Sheffield Council has pledged that there will ‘always’ be a central library in the city centre, even if it goes ahead with a deal that would see Chinese construction firm the Sichuan Guodong Group take over the current building on Surrey Street and turn it into a hotel.

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More than 10,000 people have signed a ‘Save Sheffield Library’ petition due to concerns at the proposals.

A report by Alice Nicholson, policy and improvement officer for Sheffield Council, said the authority may have to fund the relocation of the library itself if the scheme goes ahead.

She said: “It may likely require the council to commit to some up-front costs to relocate the Central Library service and potentially undertake other enabling works.

“This proposal is in its formative stages, with further development required should the plan proceed.”

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The report added: “If committing itself to this proposal the council may incur significant revenue operating costs in the movement of the library operations and project costs to conclude the deal, temporary costs for the art collection, capital costs for the new location and potentially enabling infrastructure or other public realm works.

“These costs will be detailed in any future cabinet report presenting the options.

“These works would not be funded through the existing capital programme.

“However, the economic impact of the hotel project overall is likely meet the criteria for support from the Growth Investment Fund. This report does not seek any specific financial approval and any submissions will be submitted in due course at the appropriate time.”

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The council has already said it will not use a PFI arrangement to finance a new library building.

The scrutiny report said that £2m of investment is needed to bring the current library building up to building standards regulations, while a longer-term refurbishment is expected to cost £16m.

The council has estimated a full redevelopment involving ‘a remodelled and fully modernised library service’ would cost over £30m.

The report said: “The council’s Capital Programme will not have the resources to fund this work.

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“Future plans for the building have always focused on attracting external funding from grant funding bodies but this strategy always required a significant (at least 50 per cent) match funding from the council and the redevelopment of the central library building would be unlikely to attract major matching external funds from Arts Council or other similar bodies.

“Thus, an alternative use of this building will relieve the council of a significant and growing financial burden whilst creating the opportunity, in the fullness of time, for an enhanced central library service in a new city centre location.”

The council has given Guodong a 12 month ‘exclusivity agreement’ to work up their plans for the Central Library building and the report said the next year ‘will also give the Council the opportunity to identify an appropriate relocation opportunity for the short and longer terms’.

Councillor Jack Scott, Cabinet Member for Community Services and Libraries at Sheffield City Council, said: “There’s a lot of interest in the proposals for the Central Library and that’s really good. We are only at the start of a potentially very long process of talking with the people Sheffield about the future. I’m pleased to be able to make some clear, public promises about how we move forward.

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“The current condition of the Central Library building is poor and will become more of a problem for us, which is why we’re looking at the possibility of leasing it and creating a new Central Library service in the heart of the city centre which will be a modern service fit for the 21st century, and even better than the existing one.

“We are planning more events so more people can discuss the plans with us. This is just the start of the process to work together, and I am committed to doing this in a transparent and open way to engage with as many people as possible.”