Stockport Walkaround, P.Place North West
The council has identified potential future uses for the building. Credit Place North West

Critics dig heels in over Stockport library plan but to no avail 

Dan Whelan

An online consultation on the proposed relocation of the town’s library services from the listed Wellington Road building into Merseyway shopping centre found that more than half of the people who took part were opposed to the idea. 

Stockport Council is proposing moving the library amid declining footfall at the existing facility, claiming it is not fit for purpose. 

Under the council’s plans, the new library would be housed in Stockroom, a £14.5m town centre hub within vacant retail space in Merseyway. The project will be paid for with Future High Streets cash. 

The future of the Central Library is unclear but the council insists it will find a community use for the much-loved building and has sought to reassure residents it will not be sold or demolished. 

A total of 1,752 people responded to the online consultation on the library relocation and 55% disagreed with the plan. Stockport Council said that the data was significantly skewed towards existing Central Library users. 

A face-to-face survey provided better results for the council; 47% of those who took part supported moving the town’s library services while 29% were opposed. 

Two petitions fighting against the plan from Stockport Unite Against Austerity and Stockport Liberal Democrats garnered a total of 8,200 signatures. 

Despite opposition over the proposals, the council maintains that moving the library to Stockroom would “breathe new life into vacant retail units and bring thousands of visitors back to Stockport town centre”. 

Stockroom CGI, Stockport Council, P Stockport Council

SpaceInvader is the interior designer on the Stockroom project. Credit: via Stockport Council

The authority added that despite strong affection for Central Library, there had been “no compelling argument made to keep the service in the existing building when balanced against the opportunity to provide a new community facility on the scale of Stockroom”. 

The council cited Storyhouse in Chester as an example of a similar project that produced positive outcomes. 

After opening in 2017, Storyhouse received one million visits in its first year. 

In contrast, visitor numbers to the current Central Library building have fallen by 42% from April 2012 to March 2020, the council said. 

“As it stands, we cannot ignore the huge decline in usage of the current Central Library building.” said Cllr David Sedgwick, cabinet member for citizen focus and engagement. 

“New, modern, accessible libraries across the country are attracting hundreds of thousands of much-needed visitors to town and city centres. We owe it to our children and young people to give them the opportunity to have the best possible start in life.” 

The council has put forward several potential future uses for Central Library: 

  • Relocation of the Adult Education Service from Hardman Street  
  • Provision of a new primary healthcare facility for the town centre  
  • Provision of a new community enterprise space in the town centre 
  • Provision of a co-working/shared workspace  
  • Relocation of the Coroner’s Court from Mount Tabor 

A final decision on the future use will be made next summer. Meanwhile, further work is being done to determine the most appropriate use both in the context of the building and the wider town centre. 

The provisional date for the reopening of the building under its new guise is early 2024 and the project is expected to cost between £3m and £4m.

Your Comments

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As somebody who’s worked in Comms for more than one GM council, I can tell you that public consultations are nothing more than box-ticking exercises.

Decisions have already been made long before the public gets to hear about them.

By Fred

I can’t see why anyone would be against this to be honest. Library services have changed before and they will change again to remain relevant and fit for the future. Locating it in an area of relatively high footfall with lots of other services will just obviously sustain its future and drive up usage. Lots of other areas have done this with great success.

By Anonymous

People seem to forget the very purpose of consultations, they are used to help further develop proposals to make sure that what a local authority or other organisation is proposing is gotten right, taking note of needs and general opinion. However, and crucially, they are not referendums, they are not exercises in trying to get a majority of people to have a say for or against something. We live in a representative democracy, politicians are not delegates, they are there to use their judgement to come to decisions on issues. Ultimately, if you don’t like the decision you can vote them out — we seem to have forgotten that very basic principe of democracy.

By Anonymous

As has been noted above: it’s a consultation, not a referendum.

By Active Travel Trev

Hardman Street Adult Education Centre is in another Grade 2 listed building, so the Council proposes to solve one problem by creating another.

By John Fidler

John Fidler: It isn’t creating any problem. The Options Study already says that the current Adult Education Service building isn’t fit for purpose for what the service needs now with such a large number of people accessing the service. It also just makes sense to have Adult Education around other educational establishments like the new Stock Room and Stockport College.

By Anonymous

I agree with the points raised that it is better for the library to be moved to a central position in the town centre. The important point here is to retain the ‘appearance’ / ‘facade’ of the building not necessarily the use that is contained herein. No one on here can categorically say that the building is in the best location for a library. It isn’t, main reason, is accessibility for people who travel by car (if you have several children) or by bike. There is literally no parking for the library at all, execpt a pay and display to the rear that is already well used. Its only benefit is for students from the college who want to venture down and locate topical books related to study, so perhaps it would make good sense to try and relocate it closer to the new development works at the college. Failing that, then a town centre approach is a good alternative in my view, where there are better supported parking arrangements (Despite it being a multi storey at red rock) but there is also the parking above merseyway aswell.

By book ends

Provided the existing building finds an alternative—dare I say it, better—purpose, I can’t understand why anyone would genuinely oppose this other than being opposed to change for being opposed to change’s sake.

By Tom

The comment saying ‘we have forgotten the very basic principle of democracy. / if you don’t agree vote them out’ … by which time we will have lost Central Library which actually belongs to all Stockport people thanks to Carnegie. All of the people now using the new sound-bite ‘it’s not a referendum’ … well maybe it should be?!
Another right of citizens in a democracy is the right to question and contribute to discussion on and oppose decisions AT THE TIME. Not just vote them out afterwards! I’m not sure you have the right grasp on the role of Councillors. From the Local Government Association website quote ‘ A councillor’s primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it.’ They are not there only to ‘use their judgement’ on things… but to represent people and listen and ask their opinions and put these forward and maybe even act upon them once in a while.

By Anonymous