Residents have been shocked to learn that Birmingham City Council has decided that a new build for West Heath Library is not a viable option. And concern has been raised after Northfield Conservative party distributed a leaflet stating that half a million pounds of earmarked funds have been transferred to projects outside the area, a fact disputed by their Labour opponent in the ward.
A campaign to save the library service in West Heath was launched when BCC announced that the existing building, which was closed as it was in such a bad state of repair, was to be demolished.
The campaign, supported by local councillors from both the Labour and Conservative parties, led the council to agree to a new build for the library in 2014. Funds of almost half a million pounds were set aside for the project.
No new build for West Heath – but what happens to the funds?
Northfield Conservative Party’s latest newsletter states that these funds have been utilised elsewhere. The newsletter states: “It’s scandalous, that after two years of promises, the Council has cancelled plans to rebuild West Heath Library. £494,000 committed the the library has been transferred to projects outside West Heath.
“Randal Brew, Debbie Clancy and Les Lawrence are determined that a new way must be found to deliver library service in the West Heath area.”
Library service to remain in West Heath
However, Labour councillor for Northfield Brett O’Reilly, who also supported the need for a library in West Heath, said: “The current situation is that the council have a policy of moving towards shared facilities, and as such, it is not looking likely that we will get a new building.
Cllr O’Reilly said that the suggestion is that West Heath Library will reopen within Oddingley Hall.
Budget to remain dedicated for West Heath library service
Cllr O’Reilly said that funds previously committed to West Heath Library would be used to refit Oddingley Hall and provide staff, adding: “It is simply not true that the budget has been committed to projects elsewhere in the city. Whilst I am disappointed that we will not be getting a new building, I am pleased that the council have committed to providing a library for the people of West Heath, and I will continue to lobby the council to ensure that all of the money committed to West Heath is spent in the locality.”
A Birmingham City Council spokesperson confirmed that plans for a new build were unsustainable: “Whilst the council had identified funds to rebuild West Heath library, with the significant changes to the council budget it is sadly no longer viable to provide a standalone building for a new library that would be sustainable. However, we remain absolutely committed to providing a local library service that the people of West Heath can easily access locally.
The spokesperson also confirmed that the funds would still be directed towards providing a library service for West Heath: “West Heath residents have been left waiting long enough and it would be wrong of us to continue to leave this issue unresolved, but all over the city the council is having to provide services differently. We are working with members locally to identify a suitable solution and the budget remains in place, but we will not spend it simply providing a building – we want to ensure it is spent providing good local access and that we provide a sustainable service both for library users and for the wider community.”
Northfield Conservatives were emailed for comment, but no response has yet been received.