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”.
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.