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Birmingham’s new Central Library was going to be “15% bigger than originally planned” boasted Council leader Mike Whitby recently – but what, we wondered, did that mean? Campaigner Alan Clawley finds that size isn’t everything.

How big is the new Central Library?

When I first asked the council this question I thought the answer would be quite simple, even more so when the builders have been issued with the construction drawings and a contract signed.

But I was wrong.

Council spokespersons have been telling us that the new library will be

  1. 'bigger than the existing Central Library' (it is 24,611 square metres)
  2. 'bigger than what was originally intended' (31,000 square metres)

I now have the official figures confirmed by Terry Perkins, Head of Project Management, Planning and Regeneration.

He confirms - he could not do otherwise - that the size of the new library will be 23,771 square metres, exactly what received planning consent.

On first sight he is admitting that the new library will be smaller that the existing library.

But in his next sentence he deftly sidesteps that conclusion and writes:

'The spaces designated in the planning application as shared facilities (4,353 square metres) will be within the library but covered by an access agreement with the REP. This gives a total library floor area of 29,430 square metres.

So now he makes the figures suggest that the new library will bigger than the existing library (although still smaller than was originally intended).

I leave readers to judge whether this is a play on words designed to justify spending £590 million for a smaller library than the one we already have.

Without seeing detailed floor plans of the new library the council expects us to take their word for it that a 'shared facility' is the same thing as a 'library', and they aren't keen for us to find out what it will be used for until it's too late to do anything about it.

Alan Clawley is Secretary of the Friends of the Central Library, dedicated to maintaing the existing John Madin building.



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