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Central Library asbestos scare, but council insists demolition still on target

Central Library asbestos scare, but council insists demolition still on target

🕔23.Jun 2015

Experts have been drafted in to remove potentially deadly asbestos from the former Birmingham Central Library at Paradise Forum before the building can be knocked down.

The discovery in the basement has raised hopes among campaigners fighting to save the John Madin-designed library that a certificate of immunity preventing the building from being listed may expire before the city council can begin demolition work.

The certificate, granted to the council in 2010, runs out on January 10 2016.

Alan Clawley, a spokesman for Friends of the Central Library, said he feared the council might attempt to sneak an extension of the immunity certificate past the Department for Media, Culture and Sport “on the grounds that even though the demolition hasn’t take place a contract has been let and to cancel it now would waste a lot of time and money”.

A Birmingham council spokesperson insisted asbestos would not hold up demolition:

We knew this building would contain asbestos and this is being dealt with during the demolition but has not caused a delay.

We began internal demolition earlier this year and are on track to be well progressed with the demolition by the end of this year. Due to the scale and location of building, the demolition will be in phases.

English Heritage, now Historic England, has twice recommended Grade Two listing status for the 1974 concrete library. Had this been granted, the council would not have been able to demolish the building to make way for a multi-million redevelopment of Paradise Circus.

Former Architecture Minister Margaret Hodge sided with the council at the end of 2009 by deciding the building, although a classic example of local authority brutalist design, was not of special architectural or historic interest.

The Central Library closed in 2012 to make way for the new £198 million Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square, which is now facing severe budget cuts and reduced opening hours after the council said it could no longer afford the running costs.

Mr Clawley said:

I predicted that serious demolition in Paradise Circus would not start before May. Now, despite several reports in the media that the demolition of the library was imminent, June is here with no visible sign of demolition anywhere, even on Chamberlain House, the first building likely to be tackled.

The recent sighting of asbestos removal specialists in the basement suggests that no demolition can begin until they have finished their work. If the northern half of the Central Library is to be demolished as planned and before the certificate of immunity expires, work must start on it by the first week in September.

However, the contractor’s own Method Statement suggests that work on this part of the site would not begin until week 37 of the programme. If that is the case, there will not be enough time to even start demolishing the library before the certificate expires on 10th January.

The Council may argue that demolition has actually started although in reality only the furniture and fittings have been stripped out. They may try to show they are serious by doing some token demolition on the library cladding panels whilst leaving the building fundamentally intact.

These arguments are however legally inadmissible in considering whether the building merits listing or not. The Minister may only take into account its architectural and historic interest, which hasn’t altered fundamentally since English Heritage advised that it met the criteria for listing on two previous occasions.

If the building is substantially intact, as it is likely to be on 11 January, then it is a matter for the Minister and his expert advisors to determine if it is merits listing or not at the time an application is received.

Friends of the Central Library has already advised Historic England of its wish to be notified if the Council or anyone else applies for a new Certificate of Immunity to take it beyond the expiry date in anticipation of slippage in the programme. This slippage now seems a distinct possibility.

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