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BRUM'S RUSH FOR LIBRARY

NEWS

'Rogers dropped from Birmingham Library project' is just one example of the plethora of headlines in the AJ this year that have emanated from the second city.

Richard Rogers Partnership's (RRP's) much-publicised problem with Birmingham council over its 'iconic' library for Birmingham Eastside is one tale of woe.

But where did this mess - the replacement proposals have just missed out on a huge chunk of PFI funding (AJ+ 31.08.05) - originate?

'The problem stems from 1999, when we were fi nalising plans for the regeneration of Birmingham Eastside - the plan was to regenerate 'cores' around the city centre, ' Sir Albert Bore, former council leader and one of the region's most influential politicians said.

A decision was made in 1999 that a new library in the Eastside area would generate a huge amount of footfall for a pivotal 'core' that was needed to lift it out of the doldrums.

Simultaneously, it was found that the '60s central library in Birmingham's Paradise Circus was in need of major repairs, that would cost local government about £40 million and that would still not bring it up to the standards of a modern library. Crucially, there would have been no space for the library's archives, which might have had to be withdrawn if the library could not provide the proper access.

The Bore-led Labour council realised that if the library moved to the Paradise Circus area, it could aid regeneration, encouraging the development of office space in the now-vacant former library site. Council bosses then went out to tender for a library architect. In 2002, RRP was appointed to draw up the plans.

But then everything went wrong. In June 2004, just as the Labour council began to engage with government about funding the facility, it lost control of the council to a Conservative/Liberal coalition.

'They've now got the 'we can't have that at any cost' attitude'', said Bore of his political adversaries in the new coalition administration.

This council, after claiming it had considered various alternatives, then decided to go with a 'split-site option' for the library. This meant that the central and archive facilities would be housed on different sites, and finally killed off the Rogers scheme.

Critics claim that this decision was what cost the library a stab at a £130 million pot of government PFI money in August.

Rows regarding the cost of the new scheme continue.

Bore claims that a split-site option should cost £147 million, while RRP's would have come to £150 million.

The Tory council, however, has claimed that the Rogers option could now cost close to £300 million as a result of 'inflation and unexpected costs' (AJ 09.09.04).

As the battle rages, there is only one certainty that has emerged from this Birmingham project. Its reputation will be mired in scandal, even though all involved agree that the fine folk of Brum are still lacking the public facilities they deserve.

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