Sheffield Central Library might stay put despite £20m proposal for new site

The Central Library and Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield, earmarked for a new 'cultural hub'. Picture: Dean Atkins
The Central Library and Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield, earmarked for a new 'cultural hub'. Picture: Dean Atkins

Sheffield's Central Library could remain in its present location - despite the announcement of a plan to create a new £20 million facility elsewhere.

Last year the city council outlined its ambition to turn the entire Central Library and Graves Gallery building on Surrey Street into a landmark arts venue, moving the library service into modern premises in the Heart of the City II scheme, formerly known as the Sheffield Retail Quarter.

The proposal emerged in December when the authority admitted the Grade II-listed site was highly unlikely to be converted into a five-star hotel, an idea the council's Chinese investment partner, Sichuan Guodong Group, spent 12 months exploring as part of a £1 billion, six-decade agreement.

But, in a public consultation into its 10-year regeneration strategy for the city centre, the council asked people for their views on its options for the library - conceding the service could stay alongside the Graves, in revamped form.

"We want to repair the Graves Art Gallery building to provide a new cultural hub, with the Central Library either refurbished or moved to a new equally central location," the survey said.

In December it was stated that any new facility would incorporate a traditional lending service alongside computers, places to meet, a performance space, café, children’s library and room for the city archives. Potential sites had already been looked at, with land near Barker’s Pool earmarked for the second phase of Heart of the City II - a development that will incorporate leisure and culture - the frontrunner.

It was envisaged that the art gallery would take over the whole of the existing Art Deco building on Surrey Street, which dates from 1934.

Coun Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, said: "We are committed to ensuring a bright future for the Graves Gallery in the Surrey Street building and to providing a truly 21st century Central Library service for the people of Sheffield. We are currently planning a programme of public participation events over the coming months to help us shape options for the development of the Central Library service and its place within the city centre.”

Sichuan Guodong Group's enthusiasm for a hotel on Surrey Street was dampened as the proposal’s unviability and the significant costs associated with the site became increasingly apparent.

Coun Mary Lea previously said a new library would be 'prominent and big’, not restricted purely to books, and 'totally accessible to everybody’. Presently, people in wheelchairs have to use a back entrance to enter the Graves building, which needs extensive repairs.

"It’s a library for this age - digital, communication, for learning, debates and discussions," she said in 2017. "There would be perhaps some commercial use in there - cafés, maybe a restaurant. All options are open."

The council toured libraries around the country to see what had been done in other city centres. The Millennium Library in Norwich was most closely aligned with Sheffield’s aspirations - it is based in a striking modern building called The Forum that is home to several organisations, including the BBC and an offshoot of the city college, as well as a café and restaurant. An amphitheatre-like space outside has hosted theatre, opera, music and art exhibitions.

Last year Coun Lea said it was 'a possibility' the 260-seat Library Theatre, popular with drama societies, could stay put in the cultural hub.

An earlier estimate for revamping the Graves building came to £39m.