Plans to redevelop Plumstead Library to include a leisure centre are set to cost Greenwich Council £16.6 million – over £5 million more than first planned two years ago.
The 115-year-old building is being revamped as the centrepiece of a scheme to revive the fortunes of the area’s high street.
In February 2016, council officers estimated the project – which then would have seen much of the library demolished – would set the borough back £11.2 million.
But shortly afterwards, Historic England placed a Grade II listing on the library, and now costs have risen by 48%. The council plans to award a construction contract later this month, with work starting in February.
The council hopes the finished building will be ready in summer 2019 with a new library, gym, badminton court, multi-functional studio, cafe, soft play area and public toilets.
Work will include demolishing the non-listed 1936 southern extension and building a new two-storey extension to house the leisure facilities. There will also be a new, accessible, public entrance on Quilter Street.
The work had always planned to have been funded by selling nearby council property, including two buildings on Plumstead High Street, the closed Warehouse Leisure Centre and a small car park at Abery Street.
But the report to council deputy leader Danny Thorpe adds the scheme will require a “further injection” of funds.
Conservative councillor Spencer Drury was less impressed with the scheme, commenting: “For a council that is constantly claiming it is strapped for cash, it is hard to see how a £16.6m refurbishment of Plumstead Library can be justified. I fear for our council’s savings if they carry on with this spending spree.”
Councillors have just a week to “call in” the proposals for further scrutiny before they become council policy – meaning any challenge could bring accusations of holding the project up.
The scheme to revive Plumstead’s fortunes comes after years of complaints, both at council meetings and on social media, that the area has been neglected by the council. Unhappy residents have threatened to contest the May elections as The Plumstead Party.
English Heritage’s decision to list the library came after locals protested at the possible loss of most of the original building. It still carries the insignia of the old Woolwich Borough Council, which constructed it with £15,250 from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
While the library site is a little further east of the main high street area – and some distance from Plumstead station – the council hopes the redevelopment scheme can spread economic activity along the length of the high street and will be a “first step in regenerating Plumstead”.