Stockport Council has approved contorversial plans to put a new 21st Century library at the heart of a new £14.5m, government funded development in Merseyway with the aim of bringing thousands of visitors back to Stockport.
This decision will transform Stockport town centre to help the town overcome the economic devastation felt by high streets across Britain by the impact of Covid-19. It will also improve the lives and educational prospects of tens of thousands of children across Stockport as well as 11,000 adults across the borough who either cannot read or can barely read.
The decision means that Stockport’s town centre library services will move from the current Central Library building on the A6 into Stockroom, a new £14.5 million learning and discovery space funded by the Government’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF).
Evidence from around the UK shows that creating a new 21st Century library, café and learning space in Merseyway will breathe new life into vacant retail units and bring thousands of visitors back to Stockport town centre as other, similar developments up and down the country have done. According to latest data from the footfall counter Springboard, nationally the number of shoppers in towns and cities across the UK is still down a quarter (23.2%) on December 2019.
After opening in 2017, Chester Storyhouse received one million visits in its first year. Four-fifths of these visits – almost 800,000 – were for the library, café, and community facilities and the remaining fifth for the cinema and theatre. Children’s book loans increased by 50% as Storyhouse helped to inspire a love of reading in children and young people.
In contrast visitor numbers to the current Central Library building in Stockport have fallen by almost half (42%) from April 2012 to March 2020. Book loans have also dropped significantly, particularly amongst young people aged 15-19 who are taking out 61% fewer loans than in 2017.
Councillor Elise Wilson, Leader of Stockport Council said “This is in the best interests of the people of Stockport for the long-term. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend £14.5m of Government money to improve our town centre and to help hundreds of our businesses build back from the economic devastation of Covid-19 by creating a learning and cultural space for the whole borough, which will attract thousands of much needed visitors back to Stockport town centre.
“We are committed to helping Stockport build back better from the economic devastation of Covid-19 while also committing to preserving use and access of the current Central Library building.”
The council could risk losing £14.5m of Government money if it voted against the move. The council’s report to cabinet members advised them that the final proposals for Stockroom had to be consistent with the Business Case put forward in June 2020 which included plans for a new library and was assessed against HM Treasury Green Book rules. The report warned that: “Any significant departure from the approved submission is likely to jeopardise the funding of all elements of the scheme.”
Stockport was one of just 15 local authorities to win its full funding submission in the first round of Future High Streets funding despite hundreds of expressions of interest in the scheme.