'External lift with views over Edinburgh' could be part of Central Library overhaul

An exterior lift offering views over Edinburgh's Old Town could form part of a proposed overhaul of the Central Library - but around £30m may be needed to update the building.

Thursday, 14th November 2019, 6:00 am
Edinburgh's Central Library

An external elevator with views of the Old Town could form part of a multi-million-pound overhaul of the Capital’s Central Library.

Andrew Carnegie’s Central Library was opened in 1890 on George IV Bridge as Edinburgh’s first public library – but has not been subject to a major renovation since. Edinburgh City Council has now set up a project team, led by strategic manager Paul McCloskey, to “explore the viability of developing an imaginative, accessible and engaging future vision” for the building.

Two initial options were tabled back in 2013 by Bennetts Associates Architects – the first would double public space to around 75 per cent of the building but cost £21m.

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A second option, with a price-tag of £29m – would bump the public space up to 95 per cent of the building, including the vaults. It is thought the costs will have risen since the 2013 feasibility studies – but any proposals are likely to attract Heritage Lottery funding.

Mr McCloskey said: “Edinburgh deserves a Central Library of the highest quality that matches or exceeds those in the UK or Europe. Edinburgh is one of a very small number of UK and European libraries never to have undertaken a major refurbishment – it’s falling behind.

“As Scotland’s Capital and the world’s first city of literature and as winner of best library service in the UK, we need an invigorated Central Library as an enduring beacon for present and future generations.”

He added: “A major challenge is poor accessibility. The building doesn’t comply with statutory access requirements, many areas are off-limits to wheelchair users and extremely challenging for others.

“Public space is very limited – only 35 per cent of that building is accessible for the public. The proposals would open that up to 95 per cent. Doing nothing is very expensive and doesn’t deliver best value.

“To improve the access, you have to do something quite radical with the building. There isn’t space to perhaps put a double lift in. The best proposal, which is really imaginative is to have an external lift with views of the Old Town – for those who aren’t afraid of heights, certainly.”

As well as the external lift, the overhaul could include extending the main stair down to the Cowgate level and the 2013 proposals won the backing of Historic Environment Scotland. If taken forward, it could open up a new exhibition space.

Mr McCloskey admitted that “funding is undoubtedly a challenge” but pointed to other library regeneration projects in the UK where substantial funding was generated through private donations.

“In the case of Birmingham, some £12m was raised that way,” he added.

Labour Cllr Karen Doran welcomed the refurbishment being propelled forward.

She said: “As a city centre councillor I just know how much this building is loved and how important it is to our city.

“It is unfortunate that it is in a bad state, particularly the access problems. If there’s anything we can do that could help – that is obviously vital to the city and to the residents who love this building so much.”

The council’s culture and communities convener, Cllr Donald Wilson, said he was initially “quite concerned” by the “motivation” behind the project – but has been reassured by Mr McCloskey’s involvement in the plans.

He added: “What eventually gave me comfort is that at the centre of it is where we take our libraries in the future and how we develop the essential facility that we offer for the city.

“I’m happy now that this is an attempt to take that forward.”

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