Tory councillor questions library closure after £500,000 spent on revamp

Sunderland City Centre Library
Sunderland City Centre Library
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A Conservative councillor has questioned why the central library is closing just two years after Sunderland City Council spent half-a-million-pounds revamping it.

The library, in Fawcett Street, was refurbished in 2014, at a cost of £500,000.

Coun Michael Dixon.

Coun Michael Dixon.

It is now set to relocate to Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, where it will reopen in January.

The Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, which is housed in the same building, will transfer to the University of Sunderland.

Deputy leader of Sunderland Conservatives and St Michael’s ward, Coun Michael Dixon, said he was not satisfied with an answer he received from Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, Coun John Kelly, when he raised the issue during a council meeting.

He said: “Coun Kelly basically said he did not regret spending this money and then blamed George Osborne.

When we revamped the City Library in 2014 it was on the understanding that the Government’s austerity programme was due to come to an end in 2015 As we all know too well this didn’t happen

Coun John Kelly

“I did not find this remotely good enough bearing in mind it was perfectly clear that funding for local government was going to be very tight for years to come, whoever had won the general election a year later.

“When a move is made from Fawcett Street, this spending is going to turn-out to be have been a disastrous misjudgment.

“In addition, as a regular user of the City Library for decades, it was obvious that the service was on the decline.

“Two years on and think of how much litter could be cleared from our streets and litter and dog bins emptied more regularly with £500,000.”

Coun John Kelly.

Coun John Kelly.

Coun Dixon added: “I actually support the present consultation, have an open-mind on all issues and know that efforts are being made by hardworking council officers as they produce proposals for the future.

“There is in fact a great opportunity, possibly with Heritage Funding, to join together various interests and bodies into the museum, while there are examples of former branch libraries flourishing when past changes were made.

“As a city councillor I have contacted private bodies or charities to look at possible future occupations within the branch libraries and at least one meeting has taken place as a result, but I am still very disappointed with this past waste of good money.

“There has been a lack of any forward thinking by the Labour Council that would have prevented this expensive mistake, paid for by the people of Sunderland.”

Sunderland City Centre Library

Sunderland City Centre Library

Coun Kelly said: “When we revamped the City Library in 2014 it was on the understanding that the Government’s austerity programme was due to come to an end in 2015.

“As we all know too well this didn’t happen, which is why we’re now having to look at services again in the light of unprecedented cuts to council funding which have seen £250m cut from council budgets over the last six years with a further £74m to be saved.

“We have worked very hard over the last three years to encourage more people to use libraries by taking library services out into communities which has proven popular.

“One step towards achieving the savings we need to make is the planned move of the City Library back to its original home at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens which will help sustain and provide real opportunities for both the library and museum.

“Regrettably this alone won’t generate the level of savings we need which is why we’re also in the process of consulting people on the future shape of council services.

“Much of the investment in the City Library refurbishment in early 2014 was spent on equipment - including PCs for the computer suite and new microfilm/microfiche readers/scanners for the Local Studies Library - which will continue to be used so it hasn’t gone to waste.”

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens in Borough Road.

Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens in Borough Road.