Stafford's Old Library in UK's Top Ten Endangered Buildings
A treasured building at risk of falling into disrepair has been earmarked as one of the most important to save across England and Wales.
The Victorian Society has included Stafford's Old Library in its Top Ten Endangered Buildings list for 2016 and urged Stafford Borough Council to buy the Grade II listed site and start improvements immediately.
Partly funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and opened in 1903, the building, off Lichfield Road, served at Stafford's library until it closed in 1998. It was sold to a private investment fund and an investor by Staffordshire County Council in 2012.
It is up for sale with Stafford-based estate agent Millar Sandy for £750,000 – but a group hoping to preserve the building and use it as a community hub said other valuations had found its price should be about a third of that.
The Victorian Society said the building 'should have no problem finding a tenant yet it has been little used for nearly 20 years since the library closed'.
It formerly housed Clement Lindley Wragge's collection of ethnographic, zoological and geological material and was also used by Staffordshire County Council as a base for its arts and music education service.
The society's director, Christopher Costelloe, said: "I hope inclusion in the top ten will spur Stafford Borough Council to urgently find a way to bring the old library back into use. A listed building in a town centre conservation area deserves far better than being left to rot for nearly a decade.
"A neglected civic building like this warrants the Council pro-actively exploring whether a compulsory purchase order, with the building transferred to the community, is feasible.
"Retaining historic buildings like those in the Top Ten is vital to maintaining local identity and creating places in which people want to invest, live and work."
The chairwoman of the Stafford Old Library Trust said she would be happy for the borough council to purchase it if possible – but that the trust would be willing to buy it itself.
Nicky Barron said: "This was the old library, this was a gift to the people of Stafford. Now it's rotting. We cannot start raising the money because it's massively overpriced. It is on the marked at several times its value.It is on the market for £750,000.
"It has been valued for £250,000 so you can see the change is absolutely start and try what we may we cannot get this individual to budge. He thinks we have to look harder for the money."
"They're allowing the building sit on the market and allowing it to go far above its market value while it's sitting there rotting.
"We're really pleased the Victorian Society has acknowledged the dangers of the building because we have been stuck for such a long time now."
Wolverhampton-based property developer Sat Lail, who owns the annexe of the building, said: "If someone wants to buy it they are more than welcome but at the price and if they have the money."
His pension fund, Standard Life, owns the front part of the building but Mr Lail said he hopes a plan to buy that from them will be completed within six weeks.
He added: "I have had plenty of people who want to rent out the building. But my pension fund won't allow me to rent it out together.
"So the only way is that I buy that off them and rent it out to leisure companies and put some residentials at the back. The library group – they came up with a silly price."
Mr Lail said he had bought the building for £400,000 three years ago – and therefore the price should be substantially more than the £250,000 the group has mentioned.
He added all necessary repairs had been carried out inside the Old Library.
The Victorian Society said the number of buildings in the West Midlands sitting on their list 'may reflect the more difficult development situation' in the region.
A spokesman for Stafford Borough Council said: "We have already contacted the owners to get access to the building. If we do not hear back from them soon the next step is to serve a legal notice so we can access the building without their permission. Then we can properly assess the condition."