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Norfolk County Council rules out turning Carnegie Library in King’s Lynn into flats – but Alex Kemp worried it will suffer same fate as Post Office

Our councils have insisted they are committed to finding “the right option” when deciding on the future of Lynn’s Carnegie library – and have effectively ruled out turning it into flats.

But there are still concerns that it could follow in the footsteps of the town’s former Post Office and become derelict if a decision is not made soon.

The Carnegie building off London Road has operated as a library since it opened in 1905, but that era will come to an end in 2025 when its facilities are re-housed in the old town centre Argos premises.

The Carnegie library building in Lynn
The Carnegie library building in Lynn

Norfolk County Council and West Norfolk Council have told the Lynn News that they are set to kick-start a process that will allow community groups to apply to take on the historic library.

It is hoped a suitor can be found by 2024, giving them at least a year to join in with the planning process before services make the switch to New Conduit Street.

A spokesperson from the council said: “Norfolk County Council and West Norfolk Council are committed to finding the right option for the future of the Carnegie building that fits with the interests of the community and the council’s overall plans for the town and its heritage assets.

Cllr Alex Kemp believes Lynn could benefit from having two libraries. Picture: West Norfolk Council
Cllr Alex Kemp believes Lynn could benefit from having two libraries. Picture: West Norfolk Council

“Both councils are committed to ensuring that the building is kept as a community asset, and between now and 2025, will be working together to explore all the opportunities for this much-loved building.

“We want to ensure that whatever happens, the use for the building fits the strategic plan for the town and is run sustainably by the right organisation, using the right approach, to provide the right services, ensuring that residents are still able to benefit from the building.”

However, county and borough councillor Alex Kemp – who has been outspoken with her criticism on plans to rehouse the library – believes a compromise can be made where both the old Argos and the Carnegie are both utilised for the same purpose.

She is particularly worried that a failure to secure the Carnegie’s future quickly may lead to it suffering a similar fate as the town’s Post Office – which, having previously been one of our busiest buildings, is still lying derelict more than 15 years after it closed.

A photograph showing the official opening of Lynn’s library by Andrew Carnegie in 1905
A photograph showing the official opening of Lynn’s library by Andrew Carnegie in 1905

“This encapsulates the risk of buildings losing their core purpose. I really fear for the future of the Carnegie,” she said.

“It will be challenge to find another purpose for it, because its core purpose is as a library. It’s a public building, a gift to the town by Andrew Carnegie, and it should stay accessible to the public.

“The county council needs to look after the building properly.”

Plans to move the library into the town centre have been a key component of the Lynn Town Deal, through which £7.4million of funding was attained – with the county council providing an additional £5million.

The Lynn News asked the county council if turning the Carnegie into residential properties was a possibility, but plans to involve community groups in the process appear to effectively rule that out.

The spokesperson added: “We are also producing an information pack so that any group or organisation who wishes to express an interest will do so in possession of the full facts about the costs of running the building and any repair and maintenance liabilities.

“This pack will include all of the information about the site, so organisations are able to consider whether it offers them the space and flexibility they need to operate there.”

But Cllr Kemp argued: “I would like to see two libraries in the centre of Lynn – one in the Carnegie, and one in the hub.

“I think that Lynn needs more books rather than fewer. To raise aspiration, we need to encourage people to come and explore books and read them.

“We are a low wage, low skill economy and I think that we should encourage more young people into libraries. I think the Carnegie should be developed more as a children’s library.”

Any groups interested in taking on the Carnegie building have been asked to email communities@norfolk.gov.uk

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