Elmbridge Borough Council has registered ‘No objection’ to the Surrey County Council plans for Weybridge Library Community Hub redevelopment, with reservations. Surrey has the right to permit or refuse its own plans on Library redevelopments, following due consultation.
However, the Elmbridge BC Officer Report requests “that greater consideration is given for the creation of increased community space provision on the first floor, e.g. enlarged kitchen/servery along with break out seating areas for community groups“, and that there is a ‘missed opportunity’ around the treatment of the entrance from Churchfields.
This EBC judgment aligns with some strong local feeling in Weybridge that the Community Hub element requires more space and facilities, and a more thoughtful approach to creating a flexible community Activity Hub on the first floor, to help it become an appealing community destination.
Library vision good, but Community Hub limited
The Library element of the redevelopment proposals, drawing on the Carnegie model, seems very positive in creating a Library which will enable and promote more community involvement, and bring increased cultural, social and learning interaction.
But the small community ‘Activity Hub’ on the first floor misses the opportunity to go beyond the limitations of the current first floor community hall (apart from adding toilets). The majority of the first space is taken up with tightly fitted traditional office desks and chairs, in a large open plan ‘Business Hub’ and in meeting rooms. It even seems to move away from adaptable community use by proposing to turn two potentially flexible current spaces, a Tea Room and Staff Room, into small traditional office-style meeting rooms.
Yes, residents want to see facilities for local business use. But is this an effective design, when there is a golden opportunity to create a well designed integrated Community Hub within the Library building, supporting multiple local activities?
Surrey County Council has a statutory duty to provide Library services, but not wider community facilities, and that rather shows in the proposed design.
Here is the existing Weybridge Library first floor plan.
Community input overlooked?
During the public consultation phase there were many suggestions about how to make a first floor Community Hub a more desirable community destination, through increasing its space and enhancing its facilities, e.g. by:
- Extending its space laterally, incorporating doors onto a new open air terrace on the roof of the planned single storey extension, with outdoor seating and tables
- Increasing the flexibility of the internal space, to accommodate more varied activies
- Enhancing its catering potential by expanding the kitchen area
- Offering cafe facilities for visitors, to make it a local destination
- Providing controllable shading for the west facing windows, to reduce the room’s greenhouse-like summer heat, without reducing its admirable winter light
Support for a more appealing Hub
Proposals for enhancing the plans and shaping the Hub more around what people want received strong support in the WeyBetterWeybridge Stakeholder Reference Group. A visiting Surrey County Councillor at one meeting said that a terrace would be a great idea and a significant improvement. It would greatly enhance the potential income from letting the space for social functions, since many people want the option of access to a terrace and fresh air for function guests.
A Surrey County Council Officer who presented draft plans agreed that a terrace would be an achievable addition to the Activity Hub, at modest extra cost (including repositioning some rooflights), and suggested that it could be added to the planning application as a minor amendment.
Joined up thinking needed
Subsequent local discussions have gone further, and suggested a far more integrated approach to the design of the building’s interior layout, combining the Library and Community Hub and Brooklands Radio elements in a way which would be much more inviting, appealing and engaging. This seems entirely in line with the aims of the Carnegie model, which is an inspiration for the redesign and extension into a community hub.
Improving access from Churchfields
The EBC Officer Report also suggests improving the design of the the access from Churchfields.
“The approach from the rear car park / pedestrian footpath is an important secondary access. Whilst some improvements have been made to the approach over the existing arrangement, it is considered that this is a missed opportunity to create a more welcoming space with better permeability/ connectivity through the site which would help encourage an increase in footfall and activity within the area. It is considered that this could be improved further by creating a more prominent accessibility entrance at the rear with an enhanced landscaped setting with a seating area through the relocation of car parking spaces to the main car park.”
This aligns with views of the Stakeholder Reference Group about the significance of this entrance, and the fact that this area of the Library exterior is the most tranquil and sheltered from A317 traffic nuisance.
Note that Elmbridge stated that its ‘No objection’ was ‘subject to consideration of the issues above’ listed in the Officer Report.
An opportunity for improvement
We hope that the Surrey plans for the refurbishment may yet be amended, to achieve a more effective and appealing Community Hub by exploiting the great potential of an extended and improved Library building.
At the very least the first floor Activity Hub design must be improved, something which can be done at modest cost if incorporated now while there is the opportunity. Preferably the entire redesign of the building will be revisited, to offer an integrated community hub which is closer to what the community wants. But it is entirely up to Surrey County Council to decide this.
What currently seems unclear is how to get effective feedback to Surrey County Council about the proposed plans, other than by contacting our councillor for Weybridge Division, Tim Oliver.
We are still seeking clarification on how residents can make publicly visible comments on this Surrey County Council planning application.