WISBECH: Mayor launches extraordinary attack on 'wasted' £2.5 million library refurbishment

EXCLUSIVE By JOHN ELWORTHY THE Mayor of Wisbech has launched an extraordinary attack on the re-development of the town s library claiming there were better ways of spending £2.5 million. Councillor Jonathan Farmer said the Ely Place library is going t



THE Mayor of Wisbech has launched an extraordinary attack on the re-development of the town's library claiming there were "better ways of spending £2.5 million."

Councillor Jonathan Farmer said the Ely Place library "is going to get a lift, a coffee bar, some toilets and an area for small children and, er, that's it! Notice no emphasis on books."

Work on the library "is not thrilling me at all" and he felt the money could have been put to better use.

"In terms of building March still has the much better library, and in Wisbech we still won't have something equivalent to that. Wisbech Library is in a poor position, has poor parking, is wedged in, and not ideal- it's a stunningly ugly building in a very nice crescent."

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However his comments came under fire from Mike Hosking, the county's head of libraries and information, who said Wisbech would receive "a high quality building to deliver services."

He said Cllr Farmer's predecessor, Councillor David Oliver, was one of those on a community based group helping to manage and design the project and the people of Wisbech had wholeheartedly supported retaining the library in Ely Place.

Mr Hosking said the council was one of the few across the country to attract £2 million Big Lottery funding for such a project and the council had found the remaining £500,000.

"Our bid for lottery support had to show we had widespread community support and that included users and non users," said Mr Hosking. "The money was clearly for a specific purpose and there might be better libraries at present than Wisbech but that is precisely why we are improving it."

Once complete Wisbech and Cambridgeshire libraries would be among the best in the East of England if not the country, said Mr Hosking.

"To be blunt the £2 million from the big Lottery would go nowhere to building a new library which could cost up to £7 million," he said.

"I do not believe councillor Farmer represents the view of Wisbech Town Council on this matter."

Cllr Farmer spoke out as it was revealed an archaeological assessment carried out on the site had discovered samples of burnt wood which date back to the 8th century.

"It does give us an indication of the age of Wisbech, and tells us a bit more about the castle and the lay out in that vicinity," he said. "But to my mind we went through the motions of getting an archaeological report- if they had found evidence of the lost tribe of Israel they would still have concreted over it."

However Mr Hasking said the county council had been pleased with the archaeological studies and the council had been keen to establish all it can about early Wisbech.

"The library originally replaced a church and is of an age and type. It's a building," he said.

Cllr Farmer said neighbouring Norfolk and Lincolnshire had better libraries than Wisbech and he claimed there were "systematic problems" with libraries in Cambridgeshire.

He also felt the council might have considered using developing the temporary library, to open at the Queen Mary Centre, on a permanent basis.

The archaeological survey from Oxford University concluded that "the findings are significant in enhancing our understanding of the development of Wisbech Castle."

Although a 1794 plan of the castle exists, this only shows the castle as it is existed at the end of the 18th century prior to the development of the area in its current form.

"The design and layout of the Norman castle, reputedly destroyed during a devastating flood of 1236, are unknown," says the report. "Therefore the current evaluation adds to our knowledge, even though definite conclusions cannot be drawn."

A county council spokesman said: "The archaeology report is a very much a first appraisal report on the initial findings on the site which went to the town council meeting in September - it is not the final archaeological report.

"The wood that has been found has been dated to the 8th Century and further examination of the site is needed to establish exactly what the timber is and what it was used for - fortification, flood defence, retaining wall, etc.

"Discussions are now ongoing between the archaeologists, builders and us about how extensive the further exploration needs to be, start date and timescales, but at the moment the work on the library has not been delayed in any way.