Dear Sirs,

This constitutes The Library Campaign’s contribution to the consultation on the above mentioned matter.


The Library Campaign (TLC), as a charity concerned with the advancement of public libraries within the UK, has been following developments in relation to the relocation of the public library in Redditch.  In particular, it has noted with considerable dismay the manner in which the public consultation covering that relocation has been conducted both procedurally and as to substance.  TLC is sufficiently concerned to have sent an observer to the public meeting on 9th February, that person having also spent time investigating the site and speaking to people on both “sides” of the matter.  TLC is able to say with confidence that opposition to the move of the library is not, contrary to the assertions of RBC, politically motivated but is based upon legitimate concerns.

Procedural aspects

There are certain fundamental requirements of a properly constituted consultation which must be complied with if any decision based thereon is not to be so flawed as to be open to challenge in the courts. These have been set out in R (Moseley) v Haringey LBC [2014] UKSC 56 as follows:

1.the consultation should take place at a time when the proposals which are its subject are still in a formative stage;

2. sufficient reasons must be given to permit of intelligent consideration of the proposal and response thereto;

3. adequate time must be given for consideration and response, and

4. the input from the consultation must be conscientiously taken into account when finalising the proposals.

It is apparent from the evidence which TLC has seen that these requirements (often referred to as the Gunning or Sedley criteria) have been ignored by Worcestershire County Council (WCC), the public library authority, and Redditch Borough Council (RBC), who have direct control of the town centre development and who appear to be acting as WCC’s agents insofar as the relocation of the library is concerned.  Both Councils are proceeding as if the move has already been sanctioned and only the detailed planning of the nitty-gritty of post-move requirements is outstanding, and even that has been started.  RBC’s representatives have repeatedly asserted that the move WILL take place and that if the current town plan is changed or delayed the whole scheme will fail and the development money will be lost (which is thought unlikely).

Fairness also dictates that information should be given on possible alternative plans, even if the council does not favour them. RBC asserts that five options,including leaving the library as it is, have been carefully considered and the status quo rejected. The record of such consideration has never been published. There are suggestions that other alternative plans have been drawn up but not published. An alternative plan has certainly been drawn up by the Labour group on RBC, but apparently not considered. The alternatives and commentary thereon, including reasons for rejection, should have been included in the consultation documents.

The need for adequate consultation is strengthened by the fact that there appears to be no evidence that Redditch citizens have ever endorsed the basic principle of demolishing the library, or of establishing a “hub” in the Town Hall. There was (by definition very limited) consultation via Facebook, which TLC has been unable to access.  The RBC consultation report of November 2020 (Redditch Town Deal community consultation: report to North Worcs Economic Development & Regeneration), to which further reference will be made below, shows least enthusiasm for the idea of a “town centre hub”, whatever its contents, with many respondents saying they prefer any such hubs to be at a more local level and “most would prefer to see investment in a different area”. Indeed, a petition against the move of the library has garnered 2,171 electronic signatures as well as so far uncounted paper ones.

Moreover, we are unequivocally of the opinion that WCC’s consultation process contains its own major faults, which are entirely its own responsibility. First, it offers no option of keeping Redditch library as it is. Second, the existence of the consultation has in some ways been concealed. Notably, in the library itself – where the service users have an obvious interest in taking part – the paper forms have been stored, with absolutely no indication that they exist, and library staff have been instructed to say nothing unless directly asked. This is completely unacceptable.

Furthermore, during the consultation process, false or misleading information has been circulated. In particular, representatives of RBC have repeatedly asserted (verbally, on social media and in print) that Redditch library is under-used; that the building is in poor condition; that the stock in the basement is in poor condition and badly handled. All of these are completely inaccurate, as WCC is aware. The effect of this has been to muddy the waters of the consultative process.

Any decision made following this flawed consultation would be at risk of being quashed in a judicial review.  In this connection, TLC reserves the right to add to or otherwise modify its allegations or assertions as necessary for the proper presentation of its case in such process.

Substantive issues

As for the move to the Town Hall, we do not intend to discuss the merits or demerits of the town plan itself. We shall confine ourselves to matters that concern WCC’s care of its library service. WCC currently offers an outstanding service.  By way of contrast, RBC has shown no understanding at all of the current library’s role, let alone its potential.

Financial considerations

WCC – very properly – has laid down a number of financial conditions, including the need for full capital compensation for the destruction of a large, sound building (which brings in rental income from the DWP),or a variety of alternative provisions.We assume that the full costs of relocation and re-fit are already budgeted in, but these will have been affected by inflation.

We would respectfully suggest that WCC re-visit its conditions, and re-assess both financial viability and the full effects on the community of the proposed move, taking full account of extra factors such as:

In the case of WCC:

– the unnecessary work caused to WCC by having to plan for a new site that is not needed;

– the unnecessary work caused to WCC by having to review the archives, adequately stored at Redditch, and potentially to accommodate part of them in the Hive and to digitise other parts;

– the need to reclaim the value of the recent extensive refurbishment of the library;.

– the need to be compensated for a move to the Town Hall, which is manifestly inferior to the current building, both in design and location;

– the loss of rental income from DWP;

– the unnecessary damage to an outstandingly successful local library service,which is able to lay on an activities programme far larger than those at the Hive or the Library of Birmingham and which attracts very considerable footfall, up to 1,000 people a day. Further investment should aim to enhance this, not be spent on compensating for an unnecessary relocation;.

– additional recent calls on WCC’s library resources, including the possible withdrawal of Worcester City’s grant to support Warndon and St John’s libraries. 

In the case of RBC:

– recent and enduring inflation, especially in construction costs, adding to RBC’s costs.

– extra building work needed at the Town Hall, also adding to RBC’s costs;

– extra work needed on the Kingfisher exterior where it forms the sides of the proposed piazza (Kingfisher itself is probably not in a position to spend money);

– RBC’s statement that the full plan can now be financed only by selling off community assets. It has already sold a meadow, woodland and a popular community centre. All these moves attracted strong opposition from local people, which was discounted. More such sales are apparently in the pipeline. This is not good community practice.

Cheaper and more imaginative solutions could be found to the plans which are the subject of this consultation. Local people have done detailed research and have suggestions to make, and it is a shame to waste any opportunity to make use of these. The November 2020 Consultation deserves separate mention. This included specific suggestions such as “a leisure and entertainment complex with attractions for children and young people”, “somewhere for the children. Somewhere so we know where they are and that they’re safe”, and “night school classes or similar to teach business skills”. The current Redditch library offers just such facilities and more – including exhibitions, film shows for both adults and children, numerous clubs for all ages, Lego, Dungeons & Dragons, a job club, a science club, a walking club etc – plus major all-library events such as an arts day and a cost of living day, both involving numerous Redditch organisations and attracting hundreds of people. The staff are doing a splendid job. WCC is not however supporting them.  It is also notable that RBC’s plans for the area – though extremely vague – do not contemplate anything that does not have to be paid for by users. Yet more cafes, restaurants and presumably shops will provide nothing  for families or youth (who are currently vilified as trouble-makers).  If WCC invested even a little more in the existing site – such as longer opening hours, publicity and some cosmetic improvements to the outside of the building – it would pay dividends. The library would be just the “entertainment complex” the area requires, and is not provided for in RBC’s plans. Instead, observers are left to contemplate the optics of RBC – and WCC – being ‘renowned’ for knocking down a thriving library and replacing it with an empty space.

General observations

The various plans for a library in the Town Hall are open to much debate and, unfortunately, suspicion. Even if the proposed square footage is equivalent to that in the current building – which is actively disputed – it seems clear that:

– some of the space will seemingly be shared with the public at large, with leakage even at the edges of the children’s library. TLC has spoken to children who say they will feel unsafe if not in a dedicated library building. This is a serious consideration;

– meeting rooms will not be exclusive to the library, reducing hire income and the scope for library activities;

– the shape of the space is far less flexible, which will inhibit the development of library activities;

– there will be less storage space. The present building is well filled with treasured Redditch archives, resources for library activities and extra stock that is available to other libraries in the local cluster;

– the extensive local archives have exciting potential that is currently being unlocked by volunteers. Exhibitions and film shows based on them have been extremely popular. The idea of moving any Redditch material to Worcester – inappropriate, and not an easy journey to make – is rightly causing much local concern;

– although part of the proposed Town Hall library would be close to the street, much of it would require a much longer trek within the building to reach, impacting on more vulnerable users;

– the Town Hall building was not designed to look universally friendly and accessible.The proposed alterations will not alter the general fortress-like impression. The building is far more suited to more specialised uses, such as for the proposed “5G” facility, and

– the proposed new location is far less central, and far less convenient, than the current location (close to Church Green, the most accessible entrances to the Kingfisher centre and the disabled parking). Going to and fro involves a noticeable slope, adversely affecting prams, wheelchairs and frailer members of the community.

There is therefore a strong likelihood, already anticipated by WCC, that usage will fall. The fall will be greatest among those who need the library most.

Not only is this over-elaborate scheme using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but the nut would be better left intact. WCC deserves much credit for supporting a local library that performs  extremely well on all measures – outdoing the better-resourced Hive. It is a great pity that it has allowed itself to be pulled into a plan  that will cause unnecessary expense, and will damage the service. As a matter of planning practice, it should also have regard to the fact that demolishing a sound building is fast becoming unacceptable in modern planning and architecture circles. It will cause significant carbon release – again, unacceptable when councils have clear responsibilities to counter climate change.

For all these reasons, TLC submits that WCC should not endorse any such plans.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email