Oxford University has appealed Oxford City Council’s rejection of planning permission for a £29 million Bodleian book depository amid fears that failure to succeed will lead to the loss of a multi-million pound donation.
The City Council turned down the University’s proposals for a depository with a capacity for eight million books to be built on the Osney Mead industrial estate, last year.
If the appeal fails, it is unclear how the University will use a £5 million donation given by Julian Blackwell last March. The donation was given for refurbishment of the New Bodleian which was expected to begin in 2010 and finish by 2012. However the renovations cannot go ahead until the Bodleian can free up some space in the library by building the depository.
If the appeal fails the depository will not be built and the University will not be able to spend Mr Blackwell’s donation in the way they originally intended.
In rejecting the University’s original plans for Osney Mead councillors listed concerns over possible flooding and the impact of the building on the city skyline.
Colin Cook, Labour city councilor of Jericho and West Oxford, said, “The height of the building will be damaging to the city’s skyline; the bulk and mass of a building of such size will be damaging in protective view and in its proximity to city centre; the building does not meet energy efficiency requirements; and does not meet the sequential test against flooding dangers.”
However, a press officer for the Bodleian argued that the Osney Mead site was proposed by planning officers for the City Council themselves.
“The site was initially recommended by planning officers for the City Council. We took their recommendation and examined the site with various organizations such as the Environment Agency, found no fault with the site, and drafted a plan that will sustain various dangers.”
Leigh Lanocha, a Reader of English said the Bodleian serves too important a role to be denied a depository in close access to the central libraries.
“The University is such a central part of the city and the Bodleian is at the heart of the institution. It does so much than just providing books; it’s a place that has archives of major works of literature, of all time.”
“It needs to have the donation invested for refurbishment to upkeep its service and its important collections, and it would be a shame for the Bodleian to possibly lose that,” she said.
Councillor Cook has instead proposed a depository located further out of Oxford, saying that it is unnecessary to have a depository to in such close proximity to city centre, as the building will simply house books which are “not referred to on a regular basis.”
“One possibility in lieu of Osney Mead would be to follow the model of the British Library in London, which houses its collections and books that are not in frequent usage, in a depository in York,” he said.
The depository development plan stresses the need for a location that is close enough to Central Oxford, to be able to continually service reading rooms of central libraries.
Lanocha echoed this need, commenting that it is difficult to determine which books are in regular usage and which are not.
“People are requesting books all the time, both the obscure and the non-obscure titles and if books have to be shuttled around 20 miles out of town, or however far the depository is going to be, how efficient will that be?”
Concerns regarding improvements to the Bodleian were raised recently in a report by Sir Ivor Crewe, incoming Master of University College. He criticised “the combination of closed access… and very slow fetching times” in Bodleian libraries.
Dr. Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s head librarian had said in a press release at the time of the council’s rejection, “The City’s failure to approve the proposal will rapidly have serious consequences for our readers in the University and beyond, for the long-term future of the Bodleian as a world-class library and for the benefits such a library brings to the local community.”
The University acquires 5,000 new titles a week and stores millions of books at a disused salt mine in Cheshire and at a Bodleian store in Nuneham Courtenay.
The Bodleian holds the papers of six British prime ministers, a Gutenberg Bible, Lord Of The Rings author JRR Tolkien’s papers, a quarter of the original copies of the Magna Carta, and more than 10,000 medieval manuscripts in its collections.
A spokesperson for the University refused to comment on the appeal, citing legal issues at hand.