Key funding decision looms for project to establish British Library centre in Leeds

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The British Library’s ambitions for a new centre for audiences and users in the North will take a significant step forward when senior councillors in Leeds are asked to back plans to inject up to £5m into the project.

The funding would be used to stabilise Temple Works, a Grade I listed building in Leeds’s South Bank area that the British Library is looking to develop with Leeds City Council and developer CEG.

The stabilisation work is urgently needed both to protect the building, which is on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register, and to enable investigatory work to assess the viability of transforming it into a new home for the British Library in Leeds.

A meeting of the council’s executive board, taking place on July 21, will discuss plans for the necessary funding to be drawn down from the £25m committed by the Government to support the British Library project as part of the West Yorkshire devolution deal.

A report from council officers to members recommending the step says the British Library centre represents a cultural and heritage-led proposal of international significance that would act as a catalyst for wider regeneration delivering new jobs and homes.

The report says the project would bolster the city’s inclusive growth ambitions by providing improved access to learning and research opportunities.

Subject to executive board approval, a request will be made for the release of up to £5m by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which is administrating the overall £25m sum allocated to the British Library project.

Developer CEG has managed an investment of almost £4m since the building’s acquisition in 2018.

Under the terms of the proposed funding draw-down, CEG would oversee the work to ensure the structure of the 1840s building is ready to be fully restored for its long-term use.

CEG, the British Library and Leeds City Council would enter into a formal three-way partnership to explore the costs and practicalities of the full development of the site, and of the Library operating from Temple Works on a permanent basis.

The British Library’s ambitions for the north of England involve establishing a physical presence in Leeds city centre that enables it to open up its collections to audiences in the city and across the region as never before.

The range of services to be offered at Temple Works is currently under development, and is expected to include exhibitions, cultural events, schools programming, business support services and access to research collections, attracting audiences ranging from community groups to tourists.

Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Temple Works is a jewel in Leeds’s heritage crown and the prospect of seeing it start a new chapter as the home of the British Library in the North is hugely exciting.

“The centre envisioned by the Library, CEG and ourselves would be a major cultural asset and would help drive regeneration, not just in the Temple area but across the whole of the South Bank and beyond.”

The British Library’s chief executive, Roly Keating, said: “We have major ambitions to expand and enrich our offering to audiences across the north of England, and we are excited to have reached this key milestone in exploring the possibilities of Temple Works, both as an iconic location in its own right, and as a potential future home for the Library in Leeds.

“Working with CEG and Leeds City Council, and in parallel with our transformation of our existing site at Boston Spa, the funding for this crucial next phase of this development will enable us to safeguard the historic fabric of the Temple Works mill, while exploring fully the scope and scale of the site’s future as part of the British Library.”

David Hodgson, head of strategic development at CEG, said: “Temple District offers a new way of living and working, with Temple Works as the cultural and innovation centrepiece.

“We are excited about today’s announcement as Temple Works continues to play a vital role in Leeds’ future economic and social well-being.”

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