Bid to halt demolition

PLANS to modernise Huntingdon s library services and provide a new home for the historic former county s records could be scuppered by the town s civic society. The Huntingdon and Godmanchester society, which describes the 1971 building as a little gem ,

PLANS to modernise Huntingdon's library services and provide a new home for the historic former county's records could be scuppered by the town's civic society.

The Huntingdon and Godmanchester society, which describes the 1971 building as "a little gem", has asked English Heritage to apply a "spot listing" to prevent the building being demolished in favour of a new building on the Princes Street site.

The proposed new library is part of Cambridgeshire County Council's £30million scheme to provide a new courts complex - due to open next spring - renovate several listed buildings in Princes Street, and build new town-centre housing.

The society says it has had nearly 200 letters from people objecting to replacing the library. However, the county council says it, too, has had hundreds of complaints about noise, sweltering heat and lack of facilities in the open-plan circular building.

It wants to provide a "high quality" replacement, including toilets, disabled access, meeting rooms, more books and quieter areas for research. And it plans to move the Huntingdonshire Records Office from the developer's first floor premises in Grammar School Walk, to a purpose-built facility allowing thousands of old records to be stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment.

Civic society secretary Richard Meredith said: "County councillors, and some district councillors plan to replace the library with a privately owned one, on which tax-payers will have to pay rent.

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"The Little Gem is regarded as the only building of its era in Huntingdon of architectural merit. It's very popular, attracting more customers than all other libraries in Cambridgeshire, with the exception of the central library in Cambridge.

"The figures speak for themselves - Huntingdon library has 22,414 members in a town with a population of a little over 20,000. Why waste millions replacing it?"

He added: "If the present library is demolished, we will also lose other important amenities that are part of the library complex, such as its public parking, important tourist office, staff parking, garden and fountain, county store, mobile library, library offices, library foyer, the frontage, the WI market, the cherry trees and the bollards that protect the library building from lorries on Princes Street."

One of the preferred options to replacing Huntingdon library, would be to build a new one in St Neots, which has a larger population, but fewer library users.

A spokesman said the county council would oppose any proposed listing and in the meantime would continue to develop plans to replace the building. He said: "The building is not without merit, but it doesn't fulfil the needs of a modern library. We get many complaints, and it's not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act" (which requires a public building to have the same access for disabled as for able-bodied).

Huntingdonshire District Council's planning policy manager, Richard Probyn, said English Heritage's first action would be to ask planners if the building had any architectural or other relevant merit. "EH can move quite quickly on spot listings," he said.