Controversial plans to relocate Bristol’s Central Library from its historic home have now been scrapped after a public outcry.
The ruling Labour administration said the plans would be dropped after speaking with residents in the ward where the library is located, which is facing a by-election next month.
Plans to relocate the Library from its Grade-I listed home on College Green were revealed in November by Bristol City Council as part of a wide raft of budget cuts. The council is facing a giant hole in its budget due to inflation and a lack of funding from the central government.
But the plans were met with strong opposition from across the political spectrum, and appear to now have been dropped from next year’s budget. Liberal Democrats and Greens claimed the move was due to the upcoming by-election in Hotwells and Harbourside, on 2 February.
In a joint statement Councillor Ellie King, cabinet member for communities and public health, and Eileen Means, Labour candidate in the by-election, blamed the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for austerity and “forcing councils to shut” hundreds of libraries.
They said: “Since the Tories and Lib Dems started austerity in 2010, councils across the UK have been forced to shut around 100 libraries a year. In Bristol, we are proud that our Labour administration has held back this tide to protect all 27 libraries – including Central Library – over the last six years, and will be working to keep them as valuable community spaces for the future.
“Due to continued national under-funding, as well as historic inflation and rising demand for services, Bristol City Council faced an almost £88 million financial gap. The local authority consulted on a wide range of budget proposals. It was only right and responsible to put every option on the table as we work towards a seventh balanced budget for Bristol.
“We have taken time together to consider proposals, after Eileen spoke to many of her fellow local residents in Hotwells and Harbourside. After discussing the idea of relocating Central Library, we are pleased to confirm that updated budget plans going to cabinet for consideration later this month will keep Central Library in its current home.”
The statement was slammed as “cynical” by opposition parties, including Stephen Williams, former Liberal Democrat MP and councillor, and candidate in the upcoming by-election.
Mr Williams tweeted: “How marvellously cynical. The Labour mayor ‘saves’ the Central Library from his own closure plans, in the middle of an election, just to save the Labour candidate from electoral humiliation. I’ve been campaigning on this for weeks and know the lasting damage done to Labour.”
Ed Fraser, a local Green party officer, added: “Shock horror, another stitch up. For the second by-election in a row Bristol Labour has cooked up a threat to a service in the ward so they can then claim they’ve saved it. No wonder they’re stuck in third place.”