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'Huge disappointment' as opening hours slashed at Mecanoo's Brum library

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Architects in Birmingham have spoken of their ‘disappointment’ and ‘sadness’ after it was confirmed the opening hours of the city Stirling Prize-shortlisted library are to be almost halved to save cash

Birmingham City Council admitted the popular Mecanoo-designed building, which opened in late 2013, would now only open 40 hours a week - a drop from the 73 hours it opens at present.

It is understood around 90 of the building’s 188 library staff will also lose their jobs, fuelling fears the iconic £188million building could become an ‘empty shell’ (see AJ 06.01.15).

The changes were set out in the council’s budget report and resource plan which is to go before the authority’s cabinet on 16 February before being rubberstamped by the full council in early March.

Kevin Singh, head of the Birmingham School of Architecture, said: ‘After the considerable capital investment and the way the public have embraced the new library, the decision to cut the opening hours is hugely disappointing.

‘The reduction in hours obviously undermine the library’s ability to offer the kind of service needed in a modern city and society. Unfortunately but yet inevitably, the building itself and even the idea of a modern building will be tarnished by this decision too.”

A similarly disappointed Ian Saunders, a partner at Birmingham-based D5 Architects, said: ‘This has been rumoured for some time - it’s a poor show.

‘My experience of the new library has been only positive [and] my kids love it. The biggest positive, though, is just how busy it is every time I go there. This is just a very public example of what has been happening right across the council, in short, no money.

The Labour-led authority is looking to cut £113 million from its 2015/16 budget across all services due to a reduction in funding from central government.

It was revealed today (10 February) that the council plans to make £1.3million savings at the library - a small reduction from its original plans to shrink its funding by £1.5million.

Birmingham Library


Bob Ghosh of K4 Architects:
‘This is a monumental problem for the City, although not on the same white elephant scale as The Public in nearby West Bromwich. Ultimately, The Library of Birmingham is a first class building and a great asset for the city, although I personally believe we should have pursued Richard Rogers’ previous proposal located within the learning quarter of Eastside.

At the last local election, the Con/Dem alliance lost power to Labour (a reversal of the national picture), however the current Labour administration is being a bit more grown up than their national counterparts and not resorting to the simplistic ‘mess we inherited’ mantra. I think the real lesson is that major capital projects should be more rigorously interrogated in terms of their long term sustainability and their revenue budgets should be properly ring-fenced in order to give them a chance of surviving political change.

My biggest concern locally is the ripple effect and the inevitable closure of valuable local libraries in the suburbs to prop-up the Library of Birmingham and worse still, the total privatisation of library services altogether. The City’s Labour administration has recently sold off the NEC, so anything is possible.

Philip Singleton, chief executive of Millennium Point:
‘I work with partners that are publicly funded so I have huge sympathy for the decision makers on the Library of Birmingham and its future.  What is enormously sad is that a building that is very popular, always busy and, frankly, the place where the pride of the city is best felt, is going to open its doors for much less now.

It has to reinvent itself

‘Capital ambition has been met with revenue failure. It has to reinvent itself even though it’s only a new building. You can’t turn off the lights in the peoples’ temple of learning.’

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