‘A monstrous carbuncle’: University library plans rejected by councillors against official advice

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By Molly Pipe, SU Correspondent

‘The building is Marmite,’ one councillor said of the divisive library, which has split council opinion.

Bristol University’s plans for a new £80 million library were set back this week after councillors rejected the building proposal.

The committee rejected the project in a five-four vote that went against officers’ advice to accept it.

The new library would replace the Hawthorns Study Centre, whose building is over a century old | Epigram / Lucy O’Neill

The library, which would have replaced the Hawthorns Study Centre on the corner of Woodland Road, was designed to have a capacity of 2,000 study seats, 420,000 books and 70,000 journals, as well as a Cultural Collections Centre.

The plans for the new site also include a plaza, a public-access café and events and exhibitions spaces.

However, the project met resistance from the local community, with 176 organisations and residents objecting to the plans, including Bristol Grammar School, Historic England and the Conservation Advisory Panel. This is compared to the 142 bodies that sent in letters of support for it.

Many have argued that the scale and appearance of the library would damage the character of the area.

The building, which would be taller than Senate House, was criticised by Bristol Civic Society for its unappealing design. Whilst the group had supported the University’s 2006 expansion plan, they warned that the new building would be 55 per cent bigger than the one suggested originally.

‘The library would be an extremely large white masonry slab,’ the group said.

‘The Library would be an extremely large white masonry slab’ - Bristol Civic Society

A number of residents reportedly felt the University’s development would come at the expense of locals.

The build would instigate a dramatic reshaping of the area, with the introduction of a public square, a bus hub and the partial pedestrianisation of the area between St Michael’s Park and Tyndall Avenue.

Councillor Richard Eddy, who voted against the proposal, warned that blocking general traffic from the area would significantly increase the number of cars on Elton Road, which could potentially cause road safety concerns on a street that is home to a junior school.

Residents have said that whilst the public access to the café is a positive gesture, few non-students would actually use it. Some suggested situating the library at the forthcoming Temple Meads site instead.

However, plans for project are not completely over yet. As councillors went against officer advice in throwing out the proposal, a report must be produced which presents reasons for rejection that would stand up in a planning appeal.

This will be examined at a future meeting.

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Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost at the University of Bristol, has said: ‘We are disappointed that the planning application for our new University Library has been deferred. We will continue to work closely with Bristol City Council to address the issues raised by the Planning Committee.

‘We are grateful to everyone for their input and support throughout the planning process and we remain committed to building a world-leading library for the benefit of our students, staff and wider community.’

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