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CENTRAL LIBRARY; AN OPEN LETTER TO ANDY MUNRO

18-06-2009

Birmingham Library

Friends of the Central Library campaigner Alan Clawley rises to the challenge of Andy Munro’s article yesterday, which slated the existing building and look forward to its replacement in Centenary Square. Here’s Clawley’s feisty response.

Dear Andy Munro

I am grateful for your back-handed compliment of beautification as patron saint of "redundant buildings".

I thought I had heard all the Central Library's faults, real or otherwise, over the past seven years - the "crumbling", the "not-fit-for-purpose", the "escalators", the "lack of lifts", the "place for incinerating books", the "blocking the route between new Street and the Jewelry Quarter", the "spoiling the view of the Council House", and so on - but I never heard even the council claim the library was "redundant".

To extend your religious metaphor, a church is declared redundant when there's no local congregation to support it. It's not needed by the organisation that owns it. It's "surplus to requirements". But even then, provided the building is in a sound condition another use can be found by its new owner. Demolition is the very last resort.

The Central Library is one of the most popular libraries in the country despite its many shortcomings. I don't deny its faults but none of them are fatal. The building doesn't have a "terminal illness", as the council has tried to suggest, by saying it had "concrete cancer". It's structurally sound and serves its purpose well considering how badly it has been neglected since it was built. After all that's what it was designed for.

I wrote a letter to the paper in 2002 because I knew that the Library wasn't "crumbling" like the Labour Council claimed. Since then every time the council has lost an argument they have invented a new one using that well-known tactic, "moving the goal-posts".

One "reason" I haven't been able to discredit though is that the library has to go because the council want property developer Argent plc to redevelop Paradise Circus and the building is in their way. The council don't like to remind the public that this is the true reason behind their insistent condemnation of the building.

If by a "redundant publicly-owned building" you mean one that is "threatened with demolition primarily for the benefit of a private company" then I will happily accept my sainthood, as long as martyrdom is not a condition.

Alan Clawley

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