Oldham Council reveal new plans for grade-II listed former Library

Plans for the second phase of a major restoration project of Oldham’s former library and gallery which will open it back up to residents have been submitted to the council.

The Grade-Two listed Old Library on Union Street in the town centre is to be refurbished into a home for the Oldham Theatre Workshop. It will also contain a new council chamber and function facilities, a gallery and ‘flexible spaces’ linked to Gallery Oldham.

Proposals for the iconic building, which was built in 1883, are part of a long-running ambition by the town hall – first unveiled in 1996 – to create a ‘cultural quarter’ in the town centre.

Works to prevent further deterioration and prepare the building for redevelopment began in December 2021.

It had originally been proposed to turn the entirety of the building into a heritage centre, but this was shelved in favour of a more mixed-use development.

However last summer the town hall stated that civic artefacts and silverware will be housed in the Old Library, while a public archive will be created within Spindles Shopping Centre.

A full planning application for the works has now been lodged by the local authority.

Under the detailed plans, the ground floor would primarily contain the space for Oldham Theatre Workshop, with a new entrance created on the south of the west elevation.

The workshop would move from its existing base in the Quaker Meeting House, which is planned to become a new theatre and potential future home for the Coliseum theatre company, opening in 2026.

An entrance for the new council chamber would be on the west side of the Old Library, which leads to the reception and atrium space. On the first floor there would be civic and council office spaces accessed from the central atrium.

The second floor would be made up of a mixture of gallery and civic function spaces, including a number of ‘flexible’ community or conference rooms.

Under the plans, the original heritage staircase would also be ‘sensitively refurbished’ with a replica stencil and paint finishes to pick out key heritage features, and a lift would also be installed.

A heritage impact assessment by Ellis Williams submitted with the application states: “The cumulative impact of the necessary works is shown to be demonstrably beneficial, ultimately delivering an optimum and viable use of the vacant, deteriorating and unused heritage asset in a manner which addresses contemporary building performance and access requirements.”

Overall it concludes the proposals result in ‘less than substantial harm’ to the historic building and its heritage impact ‘is actually beneficial’.

Council leader Amanda Chadderton said: “This building has been special to many hundreds and possibly thousands of Oldhamers and it is yet another exciting milestone in its restoration to see the architects’ drawings as part of the planning submission.

“The visuals show a building that retains features of a hugely important part of our history along with providing a modern, useful and sustainable place for everyone in the town to make good use of.

“This restoration goes way beyond the fondness many of us have for the Old Library and it’s a vital part of our Oldham Town Centre regeneration – we’re creating a town centre for the future where people will want to live, work, visit and socialise.

“The way in which the project has been done is key too – local young people have increased access to training and employment, around 80 per cent of the spend on the project has been with local businesses, and volunteering and other initiatives have been a feature.”

Work has already been carried out on the building’s exterior to prevent any further deterioration and sure up the structure.

Dominic Williams, director at Ellis Williams Architects, said: “As well as celebrating the building’s Victorian past, the scheme also looks positively to the future with new digital infrastructure and low energy systems providing long-term sustainability for this important community asset.”

The council says the project, which forms part of its multi-million pound ‘Creating a Better Place’ programme, has already seen more than £2m spent in the local area.

The authority currently is due to spend more than £33m on town centre developments in 2023/24, with a further £32m in the year after, according to its capital strategy.

A decision on the application is expected to be made after mid-April.

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