£5m to go towards new British Library site in Holbeck

The tortuous recent history of the Temple Works building looks to be entering its final chapter, as decision-makers look set to back multi-million pound plans to help make it the new home of the British Library in the North of England.

The grade I listed building in Holbeck, which has been out of use for decades, needs millions of pounds of urgent renovation work, and has been subject to numerous failed plans to bring it back.

But a report by Leeds City Council officers says the site might hopefully be up and running by 2028, and that it is confident enough to spend another £5m of taxpayer cash on the project.

Council papers warned, however, that the building is currently at such “considerable risk” that its future could be uncertain if the work was not progressed.

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The Temple Works building in Holbeck.
The Temple Works building in Holbeck.

A report, set to go before Leeds city councillors next week, stated: “The British Library see this as a major opportunity to deliver increased public engagement across all services in the North.

“British Library’s proposition is still being developed, but it is envisaged that it will comprise a mixture of public space, research space, temporary exhibitions, permanent displays which explore both the Library’s collection and the history of the building, space for families and communities to spend time together, cultural events, space for business and entrepreneurs, and ancillary leisure.

“This would provide an offer for people of all ages and backgrounds.”

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Following a submission by Leeds City Council, £25m of devolution money was secured to support the work of the council with the British Library “in a heritage building”.

Of this money, which is held by West Yorkshire Combined Authority, £5m is expected to be drawn down by Leeds City Council. Under the terms of this, developer CEG would oversee the work to ensure that the structure of the building, which dates back to the 1840s, is ready to be fully restored.

CEG, the British Library and Leeds City Council would also enter into a formal three-way partnership “to explore the costs and practicalities of the full development of the site”, and of the library operating from Temple Works on a permanent and sustainable basis.

Having suffered structural problems back in 2008, the building has since been on the “at risk” buildings register, and needs urgent stabilization works.

It is hoped the work could act as a “catalyst” for wider regeneration in the area, helping to attract new homes and jobs into the area.

This site will be in addition to the Library’s major site in Boston Spa, which opened in 1961 and is home to more than three-quarters of the Library’s collection of 170 million items.

Leeds City Council leader Coun James Lewis (Lab) said: “These plans for Temple Works reflect both a sense of pride in Leeds’s past and a real determination to forge a future that benefits people in all our local communities. Temple Works is a jewel in Leeds’s heritage crown and the prospect of seeing it start a new chapter as the home of the British Library in the North is hugely exciting.

“The centre envisioned by the Library, CEG and ourselves would be a major cultural asset and would help drive regeneration, not just in the Temple area but across the whole of the South Bank and beyond. It would also strengthen Leeds’s presence on the national and international stage, which has already been boosted in recent times by projects such as the UK Infrastructure Bank, the arrival of Channel 4 and the new Leeds-based hub being planned by the Bank of England.”

The British Library’s chief executive Roly Keating said: “We have major ambitions to expand and enrich our offering to audiences across the north of England, and we are excited to have reached this key milestone in exploring the possibilities of Temple Works, both as an iconic location in its own right, and as a potential future home for the Library in Leeds.

“Working in close partnership with CEG and Leeds City Council, and in parallel with our transformation of our existing site at Boston Spa, the funding for this crucial next phase of this development will enable us to safeguard the historic fabric of the Temple Works mill, while exploring fully the scope and scale of the site’s future as part of the British Library.”

The Temple Works was designed and built by John Marshall as a rare, single-storey flax spinning mill in the mid-19th century. Its distinctive Egyptian-style design made it one of Britain’s most iconic and unique industrial-era buildings.

Until June 2017, the site had been earmarked for a new £50m manufacturing facility for fashion giant Burberry. However, the company pulled out of the deal, claiming it would be too expensive and time-consuming to renovate the building.

Following the decision, the council heard that the building had suffered major structural damage in 2008 when part of the roof and frontage fell in.

Back in November 2018, decision-makers at Leeds City Council agreed to spend money to help weather-proof the building while grand designs for a renovation could be completed with CEG.

Leeds City Council’s decision-making executive board will discuss the plans at its meeting on Wednesday, July 21.