What future for the Central Library? wonders Alan Clawley.
Argent’s pronouncements about the demolition of the Central Library are no longer credible. When I met Argent boss Rob Groves in June 2014 he told me that the Library “would go” in 2015. Friends of the Library took him at his word so when the BBC announced on its website in December 2014 that demolition would begin “in a matter of months” they duly organised a Farewell Wake. But, as anyone can see for themselves, nine months later the Library is still standing. Groves has now announced that demolition will start “in November”.
Groves knows that supporters of the Library can apply to have it listed as soon as the Certificate of Immunity expires on 10th January, but he is surely cool enough not to be panicked by that. Why should he be rushed into precipitate action before he is ready? Plans to demolish the Library have been on the drawing board for a decade so. Besides there are some serious problems with the demolition programme which I suspect he doesn’t want to tell us about.
We have all seen dramatic videos of controlled explosions flattening tower blocks at the push of a button, with former residents watching from a safe distance. But the Central Library is hemmed in by the Copthorne Hotel and the School of Music, both of which are still very much in business. Paradise Forum is, or was, a major pedestrian route between the New Street and Centenary Square and people will still want to get through the site for the German Market, ice rink and big wheel in the Square. The controlled explosion method is clearly not an option.
The demolition contractor’s plan was to saw the Library in half and demolish the northern half using conventional high-reach equipment.This was intended to clear the way for Number One Chamberlain Square to be built. However, the plans recently approved by the Council include Number Two Chamberlain Square as well and both are part of Phase One of the redevelopment plan scheduled for completion in 2019. That date is necessary because the School of Music can’t be vacated until its new building is ready in 2017 and the Copthorne can’t move until it has gone.
The developer also has to deal with the problem of the concrete platform on which the Library sits and beneath which is an extensive undercroft high enough for double-decker buses. The structural columns of the Library penetrate the platform in order to transmit its weight to deep pile foundations. The new buildings can’t be built on the existing concrete slab as their loads must also be transmitted to the ground. The developer has submitted separate design proposals for the basement across the entire site so it isn’t sensible to implement them in a piecemeal fashion.
In piecing together such clues one can make an educated guess about what is going on in the mind of the developer. It seems inconceivable to me that he will want to build Number One while the southern half of the Library remains standing and the public are diverted for two years through a stripped-out Fletchers Walk, under the Queensway and across Broad Street to Centenary Square. It would be better for all concerned if the demolition programme is postponed until the entire site can be developed in properly planned way.
But it will be better still if the Library is not demolished at all and a more enlightened developer such as Urban Splash can be found to take it on and give it a new lease of life in a different version of ‘Paradise’.