Monday, 26 November 2012

Bridgend Library relocation & Berwyn Centre update


Bridgend Council have rubber stamped plans to move
the town's library to a redeveloped Recreation Centre
(Pic : BBC Wales)

A few months ago, Bridgend Council launched a consultation on moving Bridgend Library from its current building on Wyndham Street to Bridgend Recreation Centre (which is currently undergoing redevelopment).

In response to Welsh Government statutory guidelines, BCBC carried out a review in 2010. It was agreed that a "community hub"/"life centre" model should be developed for libraries – for example, the one in Pyle - which would result in the closure of smaller/lesser-used libraries and an expansion of mobile library services to compensate.

When you consider that Bridgend county has one of the poorest library use rates in Wales, that – on paper- seems like a sensible course of action. Questions were raised about Bridgend Library's ability to meet the demands of the 21st century, and it was proposed to move the library to the Recreation Centre. BCBC's Health & Wellbeing Committee met last week, and rubber stamped the move.

There were several key challenges that prompted the decision:
  • The lack of an alternative site – There were mooted proposals to move the library to the Old Courthouse on Derwen Road as part of HD Ltd's developments in the area, which had the support of Bridgend Town Council. BCBC say the proposals were "interesting" but failed on two fronts : parking facilities and affordability. I think that's unfortunate, as it would've complimented the regeneration works on Court Road and Derwen Road quite well.
  • Demographics – Most users of the existing library are older people, whilst more younger people use the Recreation Centre. Combining the two might encourage younger demographics to use the library and perhaps safeguard its future in the medium to long term.
  • Parking – It would be much easier at the Recreation Centre than the existing library. However, wouldn't the exising car park(s) become overcrowded?
  • Accessibility and Facilities - It's hoped a modern library would improve accessibility and would have a much bigger floorprint that the existing library. There would be facilities for use by library users at the Recreation Centre too as part of the redevelopment (cafe, children's play areas etc.).
  • Finance – The proposals weren't made with financial considerations in mind (yeah, right). However, a new build library, or redevelopment of the existing library, would've been "unviable" due to the lack of capital funding.

There were problems though. The consultation suggests that a slight majority of existing library users would be unwilling to use a library at the Recreation Centre, as the existing library is closer to bus routes, town centre facilities etc.

I imagine these problems could be overcome by diverting some bus services from the west of Bridgend along Angel Street. There's already a ready-made lay-by on one side, but having bus stops there might conflict with the fire station - and maybe that's why it hasn't happened.

Questions would also remain about what would happen to the Wyndham Street library once it's closed.

Berwyn Centre update

After halting the bulldozers (temporarily), it appears there's
been a new twist in the Berwyn Centre saga from
within the Nantymoel community itself.
(Pic : Bridgendnews.net)

My last post on the issue generated some interesting comments, and there've been some big developments on that front, so it's worth a follow up.

Such was the outcry in Nantymoel, the community established - not one, but two - groups campaigning to rescue the centre, which evolved further in subsequent weeks (more on that further down).

Firstly, it's worth looking at issues surrounding ownership. Ogwr Borough Council (predecessor to Bridgend CBC) were – apparantly - made trustees of the Berwyn Centre when it was originally saved in the 70s.

Former BCBC leader, Jeff Jones, said he had no knowledge of this – perhaps because of complications caused by local government reorganisation in the 90s, meaning BCBC simply didn't know they were trustees with an ongoing obligation to maintain the building, or the trusteeship didn't transfer from Ogwr BC. If BCBC have been trustees this whole time – whether they knew about it or not - that might well have left them open to a legal challenge.

A report from 2007 suggests that BCBC (then run by a rainbow coalition) knew the centre was in a state of disrepair, and did nothing to cover the (then) estimated £300,000 repair costs. The survey suggested that – although there were concerns about some parts of the building – the Berwyn Centre was/is "structurally sound", with a requirement for remedial measures. I think there might've been a more recent survey carried out that has also come to the same conclusion, undermining BCBC's grounds for closure and demolition.

Demolition is reported to have been paused to allow negotiation with the community, but there's been a huge twist.

It appears that one of the community groups set up to "save" the Berwyn Centre (Friends of the Berwyn Centre) have accepted demolition, and will now campaign for a new centre to be built. They appear to have the support of Byron Davies AM (Con, South Wales West). I imagine if BCBC were to work with one of the groups, it would be these as those aims match what they originally planned in the aftermath of the closure (establish a committee to work towards a replacement).

The other group - Save the Berwyn Centre - have established a not-for-profit company (Berwyn Community Life Centre Ltd) which appears on the surface to have more popular support. They aim to "access funding streams such as enterprise and development grants not available to community groups." If/when the Berwyn Centre is saved, it's intended to replace the board of directors of this not-for-profit with an elected board to run the centre.

Similar things have happened elsewhere in Wales, perhaps the most famous and recent example being Saith Seren in Wrexham. There are no doubt others as well. It can, and does, work.

I imagine Leanne Wood would be interested in developments here too – even if it's just outside her region - seeing as "bringing disused buildings back into use as community facilities" forms part of her Greenprint for The Valleys.

But now there are more questions : Which "group" will win out in the end? How long has Nantymoel got before the bulldozers move in?

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