The proposed relocation of an East Durham library would free up a prime town centre site for redevelopment and see significant investment in council facilities, councillors will hear next week.
Members of Durham County Council’s Cabinet will be asked to approve plans to move Peterlee Library from its current site to a new base within the town’s leisure centre when they meet on Wednesday, July 12.
The library is currently located within the former East Durham College building on Burnhope Way. However, the surrounding site is owned by Tesco.
When the supermarket chain first purchased the land, Durham County Council agreed to sell the library on the condition that Tesco would build a new library next to any new food store.
However, in 2015, the company made the decision not to redevelop the site and subsequent attempts to find a buyer for the land proved unsuccessful, with the library seen as causing uncertainty for potential purchasers.
The council has now reached an agreement with Tesco that would see the company paying £846,000 to purchase the library, enabling the site to be cleared and offered by Tesco as a more attractive redevelopment site.
The council would use the money, along with almost £1 million match-funding from its own budgets, to develop a new library within the leisure centre, which would also involve creating a new joint reception area and redevelopment of the existing changing rooms, which are in need of upgrading.
Access to the facility from the town centre would be improved with proposals to upgrade footpaths and drop-off points for taxis and disabled users. Burnhope Way subway would also be improved.
Research into possible alternative locations for the library identified Peterlee Leisure Centre as the most appropriate and viable option, while similar projects to relocate libraries within leisure centres in Stanley and Newton Aycliffe have proven successful with big increases in the uptake of library services.
Co-locating services also enables the council to make efficiencies in running costs and asset management and offers the option of extending library opening hours.
Ward councillors Cllr Audrey Laing and Cllr Harry Bennett have long campaigned to get a good deal for the library in Peterlee, ensuring that their communities retain good quality, accessible facilities.
Cllr Laing said: “I am delighted that this proposal has come forward. If agreed, it will deliver not only a new library for Peterlee but also improvements to the town centre infrastructure and the leisure centre. It will also be great for residents to finally see the old college site cleared.”
It is expected that the project would take about nine months to complete but arrangements would be put in place to extend opening hours at neighbouring Horden, Shotton and Blackhall libraries in the interim.
If plans go ahead, all Peterlee Library users will be notified by letter of impending changes to the location of the service. Information boards will also be placed in the leisure centre and the current library from late summer and, while the project is underway, residents will be consulted on the services to be delivered from the new library when it opens late next year.
Peterlee Library is the third busiest library in County Durham, with 49 per cent of the town’s population holding a membership.
Around 3,000 people have borrowed books within the past 12 months and almost 125,000 books were issued during 2016/17.
Cabinet meets at the council offices in Crook on Wednesday, July 12.