The relative freedom from editors and proprietors that former Birmingham Post journalist Paul Dale enjoys in the Chamberlain Files seems to have gone to his head judging by his recent article on the Central Library. He wrote that Sir Albert Bore had rejected the ‘final’, not just the ‘latest’ attempt by Friends of the Library to save the building from demolition. Dale didn’t bother to ask the Friends whether their ‘hopes had been dashed’ by Sir Albert’s rejection of its alternative master plan. If he had he would have learned that they were disappointed but not surprised by Sir Albert’s reaction, but that whilst the building remained standing the fight to save it would go on.
What is more important though is that the developer who plans to demolish the Library has yet to get planning permission for the scheme.
Perhaps Sir Albert is so confident that permission will be granted because he intends to apply the party whip to the Labour Councillors on the planning Committee in the way that Tory Leader Mike Whitby did to get planning permission for his new library. This is not supposed to happen as the planning system is a quasi-judicial process by which elected representatives decide what is best for the people they represent, not necessarily what is best for the applicant or the leader of their party. Councillors on planning committees, like ministers making decisions about licences to broadcasters, are not supposed to be lobbied. They should make up their own minds on the day as Birmingham’s councillors have done in the case of the ‘Tombstone’ building. It seems that they are prepared to take an independent line on applications from big private developers.
What is sad about this little episode is Sir Albert’s stubborn refusal to debate the issue in public. Having made his mind up more than a decade ago that the Library had to go so he could sell off the land to a private developer he can brook no alternative, despite the many and various changes that have occurred since. Whilst this is a trait admired by many as dogged determination it can also be a sign that someone is dangerously disconnected from the world beyond the narrow confines of his office.
Friends of the Library say that when reaching its decision more than a decade ago to demolish the building the Council failed to consider its potential use for purposes other than that of a public library. It also failed to take into account the impact of demolition and subsequent re-building on emissions of greenhouse gases, the effect of a collapse in the commercial property market, the growing public appreciation of twentieth century architecture, the ruling by English Heritage in 2003 and 2008 that the Library should be statutorily listed, and the call for its protection by the World Monument Fund in 2011.
The Friends will be calling on the City Council to review its original decision and commission a report that will identify viable new uses for the building as well as considering the financial, social, environmental and cultural advantages to the city and region of retaining it for the public benefit.