I have recently returned to my home town after an absence of 50 years and I find much that is delightful about the town and its amenities, not least the imaginatively named Creative Quarter, centred on the beautiful 13th century Grade I listed Chantry.
I was dismayed to read that the Chantry may host the library and customer information service access point.
I entirely understand the need for the county council to make effective use of property assets in the current financial climate, but we are not talking about any old property in this context.
‘An exquisite collection of Northumbrian art, music and crafts set in a stunning 13th century building.’
Not my words, but the county council’s own description in its tourist information leaflet of this beautiful, iconic building, with its Bagpipe Museum, Tourist Information Centre and retailers showcasing and selling locally made art, jewellery and other crafts.
It is only a year since the adjacent, beautiful, re-designed Chantry Garden was opened, with considerable praise and enthusiasm for the project by county councillor Val Tyler, following work by the county council’s own Neighbourhood Environmental Action Team and other partners.
This development was further enhanced by the simultaneous launch of the Creative Quarter – an innovative concept comprising a collection of small local businesses centred on, and including, the Chantry.
Morpeth’s Town Plan speaks of the importance to the town of ‘conserving and enhancing its historic character’, and argues that ‘the attractiveness of the town centre to visitors will be enhanced by safeguarding its historic assets’.
In practical terms, I am puzzled as to how the Chantry could possibly host the library facilities, unless it is planned to reduce considerably what is currently on offer, and more worrying still, what is the likely impact on this Grade I listed building of the extensive alterations which would be needed to turn it into a modern library facility?
The current use of the building is sympathetic to its architectural features.
The building has wonderful high windows, which make it light and airy, allowing visitors to fully appreciate its 13th century structure.
How much of this will be lost by cramming library bookcases and computer equipment into the available space?
I am a library user myself and hope that, if it must be relocated, a site will be found for the facility in the town centre, where it will be easily accessible to everyone, perhaps on the leisure centre site or even in an innovative, town centre based, cultural quarter.
But please – not in the Chantry.
Some of us are old enough to remember the lyrics to the 1960s Joni Mitchell classic, Big Yellow Taxi – ‘Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone.’
If others share those sentiments, I hope they will make their feelings known in the corridors of local power.