CAMPAIGNERS have lost their battle to keep Leamington’s old library for the community.
Developer Tag Exclusive Properties last night (Tuesday November 6) received planning permission to turn the Grade II listed building into luxury flats.
The decision was greeted by a cry of “shame” from a packed public gallery at Leamington town hall.
More than 300 people had written letters of objection and almost 1,700 signed a petition to stop the building being redeveloped.
Objectors included Warwick and Leamington MP Chris White and the Victorian Society.
But Warwick District Council’s planning committee was swayed by arguments that the only viable way to arrest the building’s decline was with the reinvestment private ownership could bring.
Many of those opposing development were supporters of Bath Place Community Venture, a community group which had been based at the building since fire forced it out of its original premises in 2009.
Andrew Emm said: “There is no other space like it in Leamington and there never will be.”
Bath Place site supervisor Clayton Denwood said: “I’m worried we might wake up far too late and realise we have lost something that made the heart of Leamington quite special.
“We have the opportunity to do something truly wonderful.”
Bath Place director of trustees David Williams suggested the building could become home to a consortium of community groups employing around 100 people.
But others including neighbours in nearby flats felt the building had deteriorated since owners Warwickshire College moved out, and investment from a develoer was the only way to ensure it remained in good condition.
Warwickshire College’s head of property Chris Paget said he could appreciate emotive reasons for wanting to keep the building, but said the college had been unable to find a use, and that the college needed to sell the building to pay for renovations of its main site.
He said: “We’re trying to invest for the future.”
Speaking as ward councillor, Cllr Nick Pittarello (Lib Dem, Leamington Milverton) said redevelopment was the only viabke way to secure the future of the building.
In the debate, Cllr Bertie Mackay (Ind, Stoneleigh) quoted a letter to the Courier from Mr Williams, who said the venture had moved to new premises. He added he could not contemplate not giving permission to an application of such quality.
Cllr Stephen Cross (Con, Warwick North) felt it was time for a new start for the building. He said: “History has moved on.”
Reaction to the decision was furious, with noisy discussions continuing outside the council chamber.
There was an immediate response on social networking site Twitter. @tonyboorman tweeted: “Old library a lovely building, yes. But in present financial realities not one that can be maintained at public expense I guess.”
@carolwarwick said: “Inevitable as it lends itself to some great apartments. #there are people with money out there.”
But Nick Doyle tweeted: “More flats in LS? Bad decision.”
Responding to the decision this morning (Wednesday), Mr Denwood quoted engineer and inventor Charles Kettering, who said: “If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.”
Mr Denwood said: “Despite a 1,700 signature petition and more than 300 objections, including that of our MP, the planning committee decided, by a margin of 9-1 no less, that the Old Library, and by proxy, the Leamington Community would benefit from a change of use from a community facility to the provision of 28 luxury flats.
“It was a moment that will long live in the memory of all who attended.
“Rarely has the gap between planning policy and the implementation of it been so wide.”
· See the Courier website for updates and Friday’s paper for the full story.