Redditch Towns Deal bid submitted – why we need a new home for the library and an open public square

As reported by local media, the Redditch Towns Fund bid was approved by the Full Council of Redditch Borough Council as ‘good to go’ to central government for approval by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

It was a proud moment for me to second the motion at Full Council and with this submission we, the Conservative-run council, turn another key in our mission to unlock the potential of our town, as we said we would strive to do in the 2018 local elections.

The process of unlocking potential is complicated and it takes a bit of time, and not every decision is a positive one where we are submitting a bid for a significant amount of money. Difficult decisions have to be made – and we don’t shy away from those – but this, thankfully, was not one of them.

I’ve only been on Redditch Borough Council since 2018 so perhaps the history escapes me, but I think I’m right in saying that throughout the entire six year period of control under Labour the council didn’t submit anything like this to a funding body – unless we consider the stretch of pavement outside the town hall. Much needed though it was, it’s hardly as ambitious as this.

I do remember the money to support businesses that was sent back because we didn’t spend it all, or we could talk about the selling of assets for much less than they were worth – we know that because the company we sold Threadneedle House to offered it back to us for a few times more than what we sold it to them.

There were, as I recall, an earlier version of regeneration plans put forward by the Labour group at the time, but they also came with a massive financial black hole and were never the subject of a submission. The only way of partially filling the funding gap created was to propose turning the Town Hall into residential flats, but this was a proposal that didn’t land well in the public discourse that followed. The vision was also floated at the last meeting of the council before the 2018 elections before the pre-election period of sensitivity kicked in. An old trick to try and pull an eye-catching rabbit out of the hat just before an election.

So it perhaps a bit rich of the local Labour Party to be out making mischief about the fate of the library, which under these new proposals will be moved to another nearby location and will remain the same excellent library that our citizens are used to. Some figures in the town have also got the wrong end of the stick and thought we were referring to the ‘Old Library’ which was never the case.

It is perhaps a little strange then that some people do seem quite attached to the dark and dank alleyways that the building currently creates, where social distancing is just not possible. They seem to admire how it blocks an entrance to the vitally important Kingfisher Centre. They seem to quite like the rusty corrugated iron down one side, and they must marvel at the particular shade of brown the bricks turn when wet. They must just love the roof that’s always leaking. I just don’t get it. I don’t see architectural beauty here at all.

Library rear
The rear of Redditch Library, popular with shadows and smokers, as viewed from the Kingfisher Centre.

As you can see from the photos, it’s hardly a very attractive example of New Town developments. Presumably the architect who designed it was having a bad day at the office. I might write them a letter for their contemporary thoughts. It’s possible it was once a shining example of a building, but it’s now well past its best.

The Redditch library building, unfortunately, creates dark alleyways and is a popular location for smokers outside the Kingfisher Centre and not much else. There can be no social distancing down those alleyways, and much worse has happened in the past. It would be wrong not to point out that police tape went up around the area behind the library in October 2018. I can’t see why anyone would support keeping a building in place that affords such a high level of cover for very serious criminal acts. I believe the best way to ensure such things don’t happen again is to open the area up. A town centre people can feel safe visiting is vitally important – I am sure everyone can agree with that.

Here is the front angle as viewed from where the market can sometimes be found. This aspect is obviously more handsome to appreciate, but a public open square surrounded by market stalls, coffee outlets and more will be much better and more in-line with the takeaway and outdoor nature we are having to adapt to under COVID-19 measures.

Even if current restrictions are removed the square will be useful, attractive and a great addition to the fabric of our town as it moves forward for the next 50 or so years. It won’t be an empty square, it will be a vibrant location for trade and events.

We’ve really got to stop clinging on to the Redditch that was. We’re now more than 50 years from the ‘New Town’ and we’ve got to look ahead to what we will deliver for future generations. If we fail they will be drawn out to destinations away from Redditch and eventually our town will shrivel to a shell of its former self.

Onwards and upwards Redditch. Let’s keep unlocking the potential we all know this town has. Let’s not listen to the doomsayers and scaremongers. Let’s build a vibrant town, fit for the future, where our children have opportunities to live, work and socialise in a town that’s not stuck in the past but is one that lives up to the potential we know it has in spades.

If you support the regeneration of Redditch please let us know in our quick poll on the topic.

Updates 05/02/2020

A Labour activist has been in touch and appears to have got the wrong end of the stick when I referred to Labour not submitting anything like this. I have added “to a funding body” to make it clear my meaning in that paragraph.