To invite members of the public who have registered in advance of the meeting to speak to the Committee. Please note that the deadline to register to speak at this meeting is 12 noon on Tuesday 4th October 2022.
The Chair introduced the Public Speaking item and explained to the Committee that there had been a number of public speakers who had registered for this meeting and that he had extended the length of time allocated for public speaking from 15 minutes to 30 minutes in order to accommodate the extra speakers.
The Chair welcomed Mr R. Rowberry to the meeting, who was invited to speak to the Committee.
His speech was delivered as follows:
“I am going to start by saying that this is not about party politics at all. My point is all about Redditch Library. I do not think that the Tory Councillors were elected to demolish the Library. According to the internet, Redditch has got a population of 86,00 people. If you cut that down to houses, I make that within reason about 30,000 houses. According to my calculations, before the Council has got actual permission to demolish the Library and replace it with restaurants, that probably will not work, you need full permission from at 15,001 houses. If you do not stick to that you are letting down the people of Redditch.”
The Chair explained to Members that a written statement had been received from K. Stanton and would be read out by the Democratic Services Officer present. Her statement was delivered as follows:
“I have followed the proposals for the demolition and relocation of Redditch Library closely - it's a subject very close to my heart both as a library customer and as an ex member of library staff who spent the majority of my 14 years with Worcestershire Libraries based at Redditch Library. My time there spanned two recent extensive (and expensive) refurbishments - the first a full building renovation and update in 2010 and more recently the works in 2017 to prepare for the co-location of the DWP into the building. Having seen these improvements first-hand, and also having worked at other libraries who have co-located services within the library building (for example, Droitwich Library) or library services that have moved into buildings housing multiple services (such as Bromsgrove and Stourport Libraries), I have seen how successful this model can be - when done in the right way and with the needs of the customer at the centre of decision making.
This is not the case with the proposals for Redditch Library. As mentioned above, the library building has twice been upgraded in recent years. It was originally purpose-built as a library; it is centrally located at the top of the hill right next to the Kingfisher Centre - it's already delivering as a library (consistently one of the best performing in the county). During my time working at Redditch Library, it was not an uncommon occurrence for members of the public to come in to the library to ask where the Town Hall was - located down the hill and tucked off to the side it's far from the landmark Redditch Library currently is. It was also not uncommon for people to say they didn't want to go all the way down the hill - for customers with mobility issues, this added distance could be a real barrier to them being able to access services and support.
The original reason given for demolition was the creation of a new public square that would also open up access to the Kingfisher Shopping Centre. I now see that the current suggestion is to spend £4.2 million to knock down the library building to replace it with another building - not considering that in excess of £5 million would also need to be spent on relocating the library to the Town Hall. This seems a colossal waste of public money at a time when so many are struggling financially.
On the subject of the budget - the figure of £4.2 million for demolition was quoted some time ago, and to the best of my knowledge has not been updated to reflect the current financial landscape. Costs are going up across the board, and I don't believe that this figure is still accurate.
For the reasons listed above, I object to the proposals. The existing library is not only ideally situated, but already delivering the high levels of service that Redditch residents deserve. As well as being a statutory service, for many the library is an essential service - especially for the most vulnerable members of our community. What guarantees are in place that the proposed move would build on this to ensure, as a bare minimum, that this will be maintained? When costs inevitably spiral, what cuts and downgrades to the service will be made? These are questions that need to be satisfactorily answered - without rhetoric or hyperbole - before any further action can be taken.”
The Chair welcomed Councillor David Thain to the meeting, who was invited to speak to the Committee.
His speech was delivered as follows:
“I think the issue with this report is that it is not very thought through. I think that it is splattered with epithets like ‘a digital town’. What’s a digital town? Are we going to copy Bromsgrove? Has Bromsgrove been so successful? I also think that a project of this magnitude needs good financial management, we don’t have that. I think that’s where we have the problem, back in January about the Redditch accounts. The accounts for 20-21 were not then delivered, and Peter, you can tell us if they have subsequently been delivered which would mean that we are two years behind on our financial accounts so the financial planning for this is something that concerns me greatly. I see a risk of overrun and high risk of increased costs. I think that we do not have the financial resources to deal with this and the epithets that are sprinkled around like ‘digital town’ doesn’t ring true with me. My final point, which you would expect me to make, is that the green aspect is one that has been totally ignored in the report. I think that there should be far more made of it, any development we would need a far more green component than is suggested in this report. So, I am broadly in favour of it but you are not doing enough to facilitate it in the proper way. Thank you, Chair.”
The Chair welcomed E. Tyrell to the meeting. Her speech was delivered as follows:
“On behalf of my six-year-old son, Ronnie, and myself, thank you for the opportunity to speak at this meeting which happens to fall during Libraries Week. I have good relationships with members of all parties, and people of varying political views; I have never criticised the Town Deal plans as a whole, but, like thousands of others, I believe these plans for the library are reckless and nonsensical.
The Leader of the Council is a businessman so surely it cannot be too difficult for him to see that spending £5.2m in order to facilitate spending £4.2m is a little like justifying buying a new kitchen by saying it doesn’t match your new toaster! He once said to me that if the library stays where it is, the allotted demolition money would have to be returned to the government. Even I can work out that that would result in a saving of £5.2m pounds!
And the savings wouldn’t stop there! The huge environmental impact of demolition is well-documented. Not only is the current, purpose-built library still perfectly suitable, it is smart from a recent £1m refurbishment. How can we call ourselves a ‘green’ town if these plans go ahead?!
An estimated 30-40% of current library users are ‘incidental’ - that is, passing trade from the Kingfisher Centre. That slope down to the Town Hall is a very slippery one then. As we all have seen countless times before, bad decision-making in library services can so easily spiral into fewer library users, triggering cuts to services and so on! Cllr Dormer complains about ‘lack of aspiration’ in Redditch, but what message is he sending out? Whilst our neighbouring cities of Worcester and Birmingham have recently built large, stand-alone libraries, Redditch Council is planning the opposite with our second-most-used library in Worcestershire. Does Redditch Council really want to be seen to be sweeping this invaluable education facility down the hill to make way for coffee shops?
If there was a genuinely good reason to move the library, we’d have heard it by now. Instead, we have heard a string of baseless, often absurd, justifications, for example mentioning the small amount of asbestos in the roof which, ironically, would only be a problem under demolition! It is an insult to the intelligence of Redditch people to assume that they cannot see that Councillors are justifying these plans with problems that simply do not exist! And why, after being told the plans were for an empty space, do the plans now involve building more units? - We have plenty of empty units already!
Along with thousands of others, I wholeheartedly object to these plans. I dread to think how the Council intends to raise £5.2m, and how it can justify so much waste. I reiterate that I am not against change nor regeneration, but rather I am in favour of common sense and against backward steps. I therefore implore Redditch Council to leave the town centre’s most important facility in the purpose-built, central, stand-alone, and prominent location it deserves.”
The Chair welcomed R. Townsend to the meeting. Her speech was delivered as follows:
Myname isRosie, thankyou forallowing methe opportunityto tellyou what the library means to me.
I have lived in Redditch since August 1976, which is the same year that the library was opened. I was the youngest of 4 children and after speaking to my mother, the library was a very important part of our first years in Redditch. It was the perfect place for her to bring us children and meet new people. My motheralso createda playgroupby moonsmoat firstschool, bringingtogether people she met at the library.
Iwas aregular userof thelibrary duringmy schoolyears, whereI founda quiet placeto studyand revise withoutdistraction and with allthe resourcesneeded at my fingertips.
When I became a mother, I would take my children to the library in the same way as my mother did for us. It was here that I learnt of a group for young mothers – Positively Young Mums, which enabled me to find people in the same situation as myself and pushed us to create Y-me which was a group of youngmums goinginto schoolto educateteenagers ofwhat lifewas reallylike having a baby young. We created work packs that were purchased by schools far and wide. Our group managed to make its way nationally and we were invited to a conference in London to promote what we were doing.
Iam nowa veryproud grandmotherto a2 yearold, whohas beena userof the library, albeit intermittent during the pandemic. My daughter takes her on a Thursday to bounce rhythm and rhyme, and takes my mother along too, this ensure that the values of the library from one generation to the next are a shared experience and gives my mom (elder generation) the ability to get out of her home to a place that is familiar and welcoming.
The reason I am sharing this - the library is where it all started! It was and still isa veryvibrant andinclusive hubof Redditch,it catersfor everybody,they are all made to feel welcome, helped, listened to, and assisted through may different avenues. It provides a safe secure environment, from a prominent position which is easily accessible by all. The resources it has and the groups that are held there to support the community are invaluable. I don’t believe there is an alternative building for this that would be able to meet the criteria. The library was purpose built with the necessary equipment and a refurbishment in 2009 gave it the investment required to bring it up to date.
The Town Hall would not be suitable, the costs involved in ensuring that the archives of Redditchare preserved in thesame manner as theyare nowdo not really make for a viable option. For me the Town Hall is not a social venue, it is wherepeople gowith issues.It isnot acentral location,been onthe outskirtof the town. The current location of the library is right in the centre of town, giving higher footfall to the kingfisher centre. Whereas the routes into the Town Hall, offer members of the public the opportunity to bypass the centre altogether.
Iimplore youto reconsiderthe demolitionof sucha fantasticresource, toadd more food and beverage shops, when there is scope to add them elsewhere.”
The Chair explained to Members that a written statement had also been received from Mr. O. Hale and would be read out by the Democratic Services Officer present. His statement was delivered as follows:
“For a long time there have been two questions regarding the proposed relocation of the Library to the Town Hall. Firstly, how much will it cost to prepare the Town Hall and move the library collections? Secondly, where will the money come from? The publication of the Town Hall Hub proposals has answered these questions. The cost is £5.2m and the source of this funding is 'capital receipts', which as far as I can tell, means selling Council assets. The ultimate purpose of the Town Hall Hub proposal is not to correct any deficiency in the library, but, and I quote, 'facilitating the use of £4.2m of Towns Funding at the existing Library site'.
I would like to raise three objections to this plan.
1. I do not think spending £5.2m to move a popular and purpose built library a distance of 100 metres can be justified.
2. I do think the environmental impact of demolishing a serviceable building can be justified. It has been said that the easiest path to sustainability is longevity. Using a building for longer gives the best return on the greenhouse gases that were generated in its construction. The environmental cost of manufacturing building materials is huge; in fact, the manufacturing sector produces more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined.
3. I think it is inappropriate to spend £5.2m of public money to enable commercial development of the Town Centre to occur. The aim of relocating the Library is to make space for cafes and restaurants. The Council will receive a negligible annual net revenue from rent, estimated at £94,042. I believe that if businesses wish to open new restaurants and cafes, it should be the businesses that pay for the construction. In addition, it should be businesses that shoulder the very real risk that the commercial units will never be fully tenanted, not the people of Redditch.
In summary, I would like to voice my objections to the Town Hall Hub plan. I believe spending Council money to unlock a government grant of a smaller value is like putting the cart before the horse. Furthermore, I believe the financial and environmental cost of moving the library cannot be justified, and I think it inappropriate for the Council to fund commercial development.”
The Chair welcomed Councillor Andy Fry to the meeting. His speech was delivered as follows:
“I think we have made a really poor job of advertising this I think. And I speak as a newly elected County Councillor, it is my seventeenth year as a CountyCouncillor, but 1st of September is a new year as County Councillor. So, all the way through that time I have supported the library service, the Woodrow Library service and I speak as a County Councillor for both Redditch Library and Woodrow Library, but we have made a mess of selling this to the people. We, as an Authority, have told so many untruths about the actual library building. The people of Redditch have been told that the roof is no good, the amount of asbestos is horrific, the archives had damp in them, and it needed newspaper articles to actually tell the people of Redditch that this was untrue. The archives are very important to Redditch because that is our history. It is still unclear as to where those archives will actually end up. I believe that the move from the current location to Redditch Town Hall or to the Community Hub is the wrong one. It is taking the library away from the people of Redditch. Many people do not come down this side of Redditch, which is unfortunate, but it is certainly what happens. We have made a poor job of this. The money has gradually gone up, and from £4.2m for demolition we now have got to find £5.2m for transforming this building into a Community Hub. That is £9.4m for a building that is perfectly good enough. It’s a good well used building that I have spent a lot of money in over the years. I spoke to Simon Geraghty, who is the Leader of Worcestershire County Council, about what he knew about this, and he said that he hadn’t seen the report yet, and that it is in the hands of the Cabinet Member with responsibility. As a Committee we are asked to make a decision here, and the Leader of the County Council which we remember, it will remain a County Council asset, he knows nothing about it yet, he obviously will in time, but this seems very premature. I believe that the move to Redditch Town Hall is the wrong move for the people of Redditch.”
The Chair explained to Members that a written statement had also been received from M. Clack and would be read out by the Democratic Services Officer present. Her statement was delivered as follows:
“I am extremely concerned about the proposals being examined by the scrutiny committee tonight.
My reasons are varied but my biggest concerns are financial.
1. What would be the financial implications for Redditch if the plan goes ahead and the council fails to rent out or sell the entertainment/hospitality units included in the new building on the site of the current library? Considering that the Wetherspoons chain are trying to sell the Rising Sun pub opposite the site, this seems to me to be a likely occurrence.
2. Why are we proposing to spend money that should be for Redditch to buy a site Worcestershire County Council is responsible for? The library service is the responsibility of Worcestershire County Council.
The money to buy the site from them could instead be used to update the town hall into a hub as proposed. Avoiding the potential liability of a white elephant site with unused entertainment/ hospitality units draining the town.”
At the end of this item the Chair thanked all those who had attended as public speakers for their submissions.