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Report: a happy ending for Leeds’ derelict library

The building in August 2018.

NewStart was recently given a tour of the restored Grade II listed York Road Library and Public Baths in Leeds, which last week re-opened as a gym after decades of dereliction. 

The building, which dates back to 1903, stands on a prominent artery into Leeds City Centre with thousands of people driving past it to and from work each day.

The swimming baths closed its doors in 1969, with the library following in the mid-1980s.

Leeds City Council used the building as offices until the mid-90s, before abandoning it and putting it up for sale.

In April, NewStart revealed that in 2005 Leeds City Council sold the building for just £15,000 to local businessman Jason Butler.

Mr Butler, who is currently serving time in prison for VAT fraud, allowed the building to deteriorate and its future looked bleak.

Local campaigner Sam Hirst went through the courts to force Mr Butler to put a roof on the old library, which was perilously exposed.

The derelict building in 2016.

Anna Shelley, northern caseworker for the Victorian Society, told NewStart that this is a familiar story with listed buildings.

‘Due to different priorities, councils can fail to take a pro-active approach to enforcement and to use their statutory powers in serving urgent works notices in cases, which can further exacerbate deteriorating building conditions,’ she said.

Land registry records of the building obtained by NewStart revealed Mr Butler made a sizeable profit on the building.

He sold it in 2012 to Leeds-based property developers Rushbond for £300,000.

It made the council’s 2005 sale look like a spectacular bit of bad business, and exposed how listed buildings suffer at the hands of short-sighted councils.

After years of uncertainty, Rushbond brought the Gym Group in as tenants and applied for planning permission to extend the building.

‘The whole building has to fulfil its modern purpose, so we’ve tried to get that balance right,’ says David Pickles, manager of the gym.

It’s a beautiful Victorian building and the restoration has been sympathetic.

Old features such as the mosaic of an owl, the civic symbol of Leeds, has been given a new lease of life, and the extension towards the back gives the new tenants more space for treadmills and dumbbells.

The restored owl mosaic.

NewStart spoke to campaigner Sam Hirst who is thrilled to see the building put back into use.

He believes it can only benefit the local area, which has been in a permanent state of decline.

‘I feel the refurbishment and conversion of the library into a gym will bring huge benefits to both the local and wider areas,’ says Sam.

‘For too long the library was abandoned,

‘It came as a total surprise to hear the building was to be sympathetically restored and opened as a gym. Now the works are complete it’s difficult to visualise the level of dereliction the building had reached prior to restoration.’

‘It’s strange driving past and seeing the lights on for the first time in many years.’

The council is pleased too, with a spokesman telling NewStart: ‘The completion of the work on the old library is a real boon to the people of Burmantofts and Richmond Hill.

‘It is a brilliant building that has been wonderfully restored and brought back into use. It’s great to see the developer repairing the building, which has been a landmark in the local area for over 100 years, instead of tearing it down. The new gym is a boost for the community and we look forward to its opening this summer.’

With the library finally entering a new chapter, it’s fitting that Mr Hirst, who campaigned to save he building during the late 00s, has been rewarded for his efforts with a free lifetime membership to the new gym.

The refurbished building from the exterior.

 

 

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