Sheffield Council has promised to keep a full library service in the city centre if a plan to turn the Central Library into a five star hotel goes ahead.
The council has given its Chinese investment partner Sichuan Guodong Group partner 12 months to look into the possibility of converting the Grade II-listed building.
If the plan goes ahead, the 80-year-old building would become the city’s first five star hotel.
If not, the library service would stay. But without the investment, the council says it would need to spend around £30 million of taxpayers’ money to bring the building to modern standards.
The news was greeted yesterday with anger from some people concerned for the future of both the building and the library service.
Becca Gransbury, a 38-year-old book seller from Wyburn, set up a petition calling for the Central Library building to remain a library. At the time of going to press it had more than 2,700 signatures.
She said it felt like the council was ‘jumping the gun’ and should consult people on what they want from the library service.
“The feedback I have had so far is that it’s such a beautiful space and people want to be able to enjoy it,” she said.
"Where it is, with Tudor Square next door and the Winter Gardens and Peace Gardens, which are public spaces, there is a kind of community area.
"The library and Graves Gallery are a big part of that."
Sichuan Guodong would keep the Graves Gallery within the building if it were converted to a hotel, with full public access.
Becca added: "I know that the building has its problems but it would be nice to have a discussion and different ideas on how that could be resolved."
The council’s former director of libraries Keith Crawshaw welcomed investment in the building, but raised concerns about the future of the library service.
He said: "I fear that, unlike the art gallery, the Central Library, lacking both a strong external lobby and little opportunity to attract external funds, will fall victim to a location and scale which relegates it to an unsatisfactory and poorer location in the city centre and that the 'fullness of time' promised for 'an enhanced central library service' will never arrive."
The council’s cabinet member for community services and libraries Jack Scott gave a ‘120 per cent commitment’ that there would always be a city centre library service, and it would not be replaced - as in some areas of Sheffield, such as Walkley, with a volunteer-run project.
Coun Scott said he had given assurances to Central Library staff, and added: “We know how important the current service is and we will always deliver that.”
He said the building was ‘fantastic’, but also ‘has its difficulties’, adding: “Our job is to balance all that together and figure out what’s best for Sheffield.
"The core library service isn't tied to that building but I understand why people are attached to it."
Coun Scott said the council was exploring the possibility of a lease arrangement rather than a sale.
"This is worth looking at and we want to make it work if we can," he said.
A report to cabinet on the hotel plan can be read on the Sheffield Council website.
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