The future of Oxford University’s world famous Bodleian Library has been left hanging in the balance after an appeal against plans blocking a £29million extension was thrown out.
The latest blow to the library’s hopes of development came when a planning inspector hearing the appeal dismissed the Bod’s ambitious plans on the grounds that they would damage the city’s historic ‘dreaming spires’ skyline and that there was too much of a flood risk.
Dannie Onn, the Government-appointed inspector, said in his report that the ruling was based on the stipulation that the depository “should not undermine the character of the city, which is a fundamental asset to the university.”
Permission for the eight million volume capacity book depository to be built was initially granted by the strategic planning committee late last year, in a tight vote of six to five, but days later the decision was overturned when 14 Oxford City councillors insisted the application should be referred to the full council. Oxford University’s subsequent appeal of the decision has now also be quashed.
‘Over-congestion’ and ‘unsafe conditions’
Dr Sarah Thomas, Oxford University’s Head Librarian, said that the decision had left much of the Bodleian’s invaluable collection at risk and that staff would have to quickly generate new ideas on how to save it.
“This is obviously a great disappointment but the pragmatic approach is to move on,” she said.
“The Library has suffered from over-congestion in unsafe conditions because of inadequate storage for years.
“We will now need to be creative about rethinking our management of collections. Tough decisions will need to be taken.”
Among the organisations which objected to the planned development at the Osney Mead industrial estate on the city’s outskirts were The Oxford Preservation Trust, Oxford Civic Society, Oxfordshire Campaign to Protect Rural England and Oxford Green Belt Network.
All raised concerns that the new building would clutter Oxford’s famous “dreaming spires” skyline.
Hopes for Osney Mead over
Oxford City councillor Colin Cook confirmed that Oxford University’s hopes to develop Osney Mead were almost certainly over.
“I would have thought so,” he said. “At least on that particular site anyway.” He added that several alternative sites had been suggested at the planning inquiry, but most of them lay outside of the city’s boundaries.
“We will work with the university in whatever way we can to achieve the book depository for them that they clearly need.”
Apart from the collection itself, this latest ruling against the library’s expansion programme could also put plans to construct a new £5 million display hall in jeopardy.
Publishing magnate Julian Blackwell, of Blackwell publishing and retailers, provided the funding for this project in a generous gift to the Bodleian made earlier this year – the largest single cash donation ever made to a university library in the UK.
The gift had been intended to pay for the building of Blackwell Hall, allowing the Bodleian’s priceless collection to be more freely exhibited to the public, but staff at the university confirmed at the time that the scheme could come under threat if the planned extension at Osney Mead was not built.
The Bodelian possesses a copy of almost every book ever printed in England and adds an additional 5,000 volumes to its catalogue every week. Its treasures include the earliest complete book written in the English language, Shakespeare’s First Folio and the original manuscripts of many classic novels, such as Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein.”