11:00am Thursday 12th May 2011
By Reg Little
SUMMERTOWN could end up with a new multi-million pound library after the campaign to save Oxfordshire libraries took a new twist.
Campaigners in North Oxford say, rather than stand by and see their local library closed, they will challenge County Hall to let them build a new library on the site of the existing one in South Parade.
The Friends of Summertown Library are in the process of turning themselves into a registered charity, which will have the backing of such high-profile figures as Inspector Morse author Colin Dexter.
Securing the site of the library building from Oxfordshire County Council could be one of its priorities, with campaigners saying that instead of losing its library, Summertown deserves a bigger and better facility.
Chairman of the Friends, Jonathan Hood, said: “We have a professional team of lawyers, accountants, architects, consultants, library experts, business people and community activists formulating a workable action plan, to be launched immediately if the council goes for closure.”
He said that the group’s preferred option was to work with the county council to provide a better local library service, expanded to include cultural activities. But it was sceptical about the county’s pledge to rethink its library policy in the face of local campaigns against closures.
Mr Hood said: “All that has really happened is that the council has shifted the issue until after the district elections and has bought itself more time to do all the things it should have done months ago to make its closure decision legal.”
He said he believed Summertown Library would probably be earmarked to transfer to the Ferry Centre, with the site to be sold off as prime retail space. He said architects had advised that the existing library was reaching the end of “its sell-by date”.
Mr Hood said the idea of creating a new facility of up to three or four storeys, including a basement, was now being explored.
He said: “We are currently in the middle of a feasibility study.”
Mr Hood said creating a post office within the new building would be a priority, with the lack of a local post office a major issue in Summertown.
Turrill Sculpture Garden, next to the library, would be a key feature in the development.
With the scheme likely to cost between £3m and £4m, he said the charity would launch a fundraising campaign and seek funding from a community bank. But he said everything would depend on County Hall agreeing to a long lease or the sale of the freehold, and whether it would seek full value.
To show its seriousness, Mr Hood said the group had raised £7,000 since February, which had been used to fund a survey of Summertown residents and feasibility work.
Paul Smith, spokesman for Oxfordshire County Council, said: “We’ll be keen to examine in detail any proposals from local groups but would urge them to wait to see what is proposed by the council.
“A full consultation will begin in the near future. No decisions have been made and none will be made until late 2011.”
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