After Birmingham’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat controlled council rejected the proposed Richard Rogers-designed 400,000 sq ft library at Eastside as being too expensive, in July 2005, its cabinet announced the decision to build a split-site city library with a lending and reference section at Centenary Square and an archive and family history centre at Millennium Point.
This decision was criticised by the scrutiny committee report the following October. It was thought that the split-site library could prove to be more expensive and less user-friendly than a £180 million single-site library at Eastside. The report concluded that only the Centenary Square site proposed for the lending and reference library, between Baskerville House and the Repertory Theatre, would be large enough for a 24,000 sq metre building.
It was reported that contributions from members of the public to the scrutiny committee were overwhelmingly in favour of either refurbishing and extending the existing Central Library or of proceeding with the Eastside library designed by Lord Richard Rogers.
Accounts of the campaign by the Friends of the Central Library who have also been in favour of either refurbishing and extending the existing Central Library, can be seen on other pages.
Despite the public’s expressed preference the project was strongly supported by the council leader, Mike Whitby and Clive Dutton, who became director of planning and regeneration at Birmingham City Council in February 2005. His previous employment included working as director of regeneration at JJ Gallagher – a Birmingham building company.
Other active people included Stephen Hartland of Birmingham Civic Society, who described working closely with architect John Simpson on a ‘major reworking’ of Paradise Circus. In April 2005 with chairman of the Society, he met Gary Taylor, director of Argent, which was to be the developer for the library and surrounding area.
In April 2009, plans for Britain’s largest public library were unveiled. The 31,000 sq glass and steel facility was designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo.
The Guardian reported that Brian Gambles, head of Birmingham library service, said that now, “many of us have the means to buy books. We need to make the library more of an experience. Our role will now be less about transactions with users and more about aiding their transformation.”
Construction has begun and the library is scheduled to open in summer 2013.