Calls to postpone sale of historic library building in Sheffield

Walkley Library  hub of the community

Walkley Library hub of the community

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Hundreds of people have signed a petition to postpone the sale of a Sheffield library to a restaurant group.

Walkley Library was the only library which had two business plans submitted after Sheffield Council decided to relinquish control of 15 facilities last year – but the rival groups have now united with a new plan.

The scheme would lead to part of it becoming a coffee shop and restaurant, with Forum Café Bars, which was behind one of the plans, hoping to buy it and lease areas back so volunteers from Walkley Carnegie Library Group, who were behind the other plan and are currently running the library, can continue to do so.

However, a third group has launched a petition calling for the council to put the sale of the Grade II-listed building on hold until other options are considered – and it has now been signed by 1,862 people.

Philip Khorassandjian, from the Friends of Walkley Library Group, behind the petition, said: “A community asset, a building that has been there for 110 years, will fall into private hands if this sale goes ahead.

“We are asking for a moratorium until the community has had a chance to look at all the other options.

“If the community agrees it is the best thing for the library then those of us fighting for this will shut down our website and go away.”

Kane Yeardley, from the Forum Café Bar group, said its proposal would support and maintain the library building to keep it open.

He said up to 35 jobs would be created, business owners were supportive and, if the firm did not get involved, the building could fall into ‘disrepair’ and have to close.

More than £100,000 would be spent on renovating the building, and £400,000 on other improvements. The business would pay for the building’s £20,000-a-year operating costs.

Mr Yeardley said: “From The Forum on Division Street, to The York in Broomhill, to The Broadfield on Abbeydale Road to the British Oak in Mosborough, Forum Café Bars has a consistent record of quality renovations and improving buildings and attracting other businesses to the area.”

Walkley Carnegie Library Group is currently negotiating a sub-lease with the council and creating a 10 – year business plan to continue the library service – which will include searching for future funding.

Its committee said the ‘greatest burden’ was the state of the building and those shortcomings would be ‘addressed under the proposed partnership, protecting the building as a safe and accessible amenity.

They said: “While developing the business plan and seeking funding to enhance the service, the committee believe the partnership with Forum Café Bars provides the most practical method of ensuring the sustainability of Walkley Library and keeping South Road vibrant.”

They also said the online petition ommitted the fact the library service would be retained and several people had signed it believing they were supporting volunteers.

Coun Isobel Bowler, council cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said: “The solution we’ve been working on enables significant investment in the building whilst securing the long-term future of the library.”

She said the building was ‘badly in need of repair’, plans for a future sale had been discussed at a public meeting and potential conditions included a 125-year lease to the council, as well as the option for the authority to buy it back.

Sale details will be included on a list of council buildings to be sold when conditions are agreed.