JG Graves, the philanthropist who paid for Sheffield Central Library to be built, would have approved of plans to convert the building into a five-star hotel.
That was the bold claim made by Councillor Jack Scott, Sheffield Council's cabinet member for community service and libraries, as he addressed a public meeting about the controversial proposals on Tuesday evening.
“If JG Graves was here today I think he would say art should be for everyone and libraries should be for everyone,” said Coun Scott told the audience of around 200 people gathered at Sheffield Town Hall.
“I think he would say ‘that library I built was brilliant but it’s not as good as it was and if you can do something with my legacy I would support that’.”
Coun Scott, who claimed the hotel would generate around £1 million a year in business rates and add to the city centre's 'vibrancy', added that the proposals had the support of JG Graves' great-great-nephew.
Whatever JG Graves might think were he still around, it was clear the majority of those addressing the public meeting were less than impressed with the proposals.
Rebecca Gransbury, whose online petition to save the library has garnered more than 9,800 signatures, addressed the meeting to loud applause.
“The library building is part of our heritage, and I would like to see it remain part of our heritage,” she said.
She called on the council to continue to search for the necessary funding to preserve the building as a library.
Should the central library move, she said she wanted a ‘renewed commitment’ to funding Sheffield’s library service, which she said currently compared unfavourably to other cities like Liverpool, Leeds and Wakefield.
One member of the audience demanded to know why other developers had not been invited to submit proposals for the building, when he said the council would ‘get three quotes for its stationery supply’.
Another man claimed the cost of hosting the World Student Games in 1991 could have paid many times over for the library building to be restored, while another said that despite remaining open to the public Graves Art Gallery would effectively become ‘publicly funded lobby art’.
Not everyone was opposed, however. Speaking after the meeting, Gay Horsfield said she believed a new purpose-built library was the way forward and she believed a five-star hotel could be good for the city.
Sheffield Council announced last month that it was in talks with a Chinese firm over plans to turn the Grade II-listed building into a five-star hotel.
The Graves Gallery would be retained in the building and kept open to the public, under the proposals, with a full library service to be provided elsewhere in the city centre.
The council, which claims the existing library building would cost £30 million to renovate to modern standards, has given investment partner the Sichuan Guodong Construction Group a 12-month exclusivity period in which to investigate the hotel option.
Couns Scott and Mary Lea, cabinet member for cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, who also addressed the meeting, made it clear nothing had been decided and Tuesday's meeting merely marked the start of a long 'conversation' with Sheffielders.
Should the proposals go ahead, Coun Scott promised a new library would be built in the 'heart of the city' and there would be a 'triple lock' of planning laws in place to preserve the existing Grade II-listed library building for future generations.
He said he believed the city would 'rue the day' should it spurn the opportunity to save the building and build a new library fit for the 21st century.
* A second public meeting about the library proposals is due to take place next Friday, December 16, and a third meeting may now be held such is the demand.