Council hits back at library bid critics

Ottery St. Mary library. Ref sho 3398-50-14AW. Picture: Alex Walton.

Ottery St. Mary library. Ref sho 3398-50-14AW. Picture: Alex Walton. - Credit: Archant

Civic leaders have defended spending £139,500 on a town centre facility, amid claims they are out of touch with Ottery’s economic needs.

Last week, the town council put in a successful bid for the former NatWest Bank premises in the heart of Ottery and have earmarked it as an ideal site for a new library and public toilets.

They came under fire this week from some traders and residents, who criticised a failure to hold a consultation before spending public money and called it ‘a wasted opportunity’.

The council hit back at the claims, saying a consultation on the future of the library and recent neighbourhood plan meetings demonstrated overwhelming support for the facility and also a need for public toilets in the town centre.

Chris Piper, of Christopher Piper Wines, in Silver Street, said: “The acquisition of the NatWest building by the council sadly reflects its dreadful lack of understanding of how to drive forward Ottery’s commercial future.”

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He referred to potential commercial benefits of the building and said: “This is an entirely wasted opportunity by our elders to begin a process of regeneration in the centre of town.”

His views were echoed by resident John Green, who expressed concern the NatWest building could become another potential ‘white elephant’ for the town with ‘no clear strategic vision’.

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Mayor Glyn Dobson said: “In this case, people are absolutely wrong about what they are saying.

“If we have a library and public toilets there, people would have to walk right through the town to get to them and that will help businesses.

“We are here for the residents of the parish and I’m really excited about the project – I think it’s brilliant for the town.”

He said representatives of Devon Libraries have recognised it as a suitable alternative to the current building, which lacks disabled access.

Cllr Dobson added, the cost to install toilets at the Land of Canaan – as previously proposed – would be greater than that of turning the former NatWest site into a new library and facilities.

Chairman of Friends of Ottery Library James Goddard said: “It would allow us to increase facilities not just for young people, but older people and the group in the middle who currently have to queue up for IT facilities.”

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