ppp header

Brighton Jubilee Library

Category: Libraries

"We actually find the contractors are less contractual than some of our own staff on occasion; they're very pragmatic and like to get things done. We've changed round the layout of the library three times since moving in and that's never been a problem with the PFI."

Katharine Pearce, Project Manager

November, 2005

The new Jubilee library in Brighton has confounded many of the critics of PFI. The £14m project which is part of a £50m redevelopment of a run down area of Brighton city centre has won awards for architecture, construction, PFI, regeneration and sustainability.

The PPP Forum spoke to Sally McMahon Head of Libraries and ICT and Katharine Pearce Project Manager - Brighton New Central Library and Jubilee Street Major Projects Team, Strategy and Governance, Brighton and Hove City Council.

Sally:"We’ve been planning a new library for Brighton for many years and we’ve had several false starts so there’s been plenty of time to think about what kind of building we wanted. We thought about how we wanted the building to function they came up with the design and what we have reflects the way we wanted people to use the building. We began to put together the business case for this PFI in about 1997 and at the time if I’m honest it really was the only way to make sure that we had the funding. At that time the library was inadequate and we had to move to temporary accomodatione to enable the redevelopment of the Brighton Museumsand Art Gallery and the Dome to go ahead."

Katharine:"This site had lain vacant for about 30 years which is a shame as it lies between two really vibrant parts of Brighton City Centre. It was difficult to redevelop during the 1980 as land values were lower and infrastructure costs were higher. Also it’s in a conservation area which put developers off. Now we’re going to have a square at the centre of the site with shops, restaurants, offices, affordable housing and this wonderful library as a focus."

The library is thought to be one of the most eco-friendly public buildings in the UK. Drawing most of its heat, light and ventilation from sunshine and sea breezes, the library features low energy consumption, low embodied energy and recycled rainwater.

Sally: "Sustainability goes hand in hand with cost effectiveness and providing the perfect environment for a library. For instance, we rely on sunshine to provide heat and light and what’s better for reading than natural light? The open plan nature of the building that is essential for natural ventilation also provides flexible accomodation that is essential to a modern public library."

The library features a glass front wall, with ground floor and upper floor double height internal spaces, constructed from 2 rows of vaulted structures supported on tall columns. Three single height, flexible perimiter spaces, for book storage library activities and specialist functions wrap around these central areas in a u-shape on 3 sides. The library was built on time and to budget and the team are delighted with the result.

Katharine: "We tried to complete each phase in the process as well as we could and as a council we put the right resources in. We also had a clear delineation of responsibilities. Sally is the Library Services client. I’m the project manager. Although sometimes Sally and I disagreed, on the whole we worked very hard together to keep the process on track."

Sally: "There was a great deal of perseverance and determination on all sides to make this work. We had a strong council behind us with all the right disciplines. We were also very clear about what we wanted as we’d had a number of attempts to get the project off the ground in the past."

Katharine:"Trust is an important issue in a project like this you really do need to build relationships and learn not to take advantage of each other. Mill Group have been very good in that respect. They gave us one of their most senior people as their main contact. I wasn’t always sure it was the best use of their resources but it was brilliant from our side as it meant that if there were any problems we could get them sorted straight away at a senior level. Also Sally was a disciplined client and made sure she was ready to meet deadlines and take decisions when they were needed."

Sally: "I did things which weren’t strictly allowed like talking directly to the architects but I felt it was important to be involved in every aspect of the project and I’m very pleased with the result. It’s a beautiful building and it’s proving really popular with library users."

Since the library opened in March 2005 membership has soared. A record 3,000 new people signed up in the first two weeks alone.

Sally: "If you think that it takes about 20 minutes to sign up a new library member you can imagine how much pressure the staff were under. We had to recruit extra people and extend our opening hours. Staff were very supportive and enthusiastic and they do love the new building but it’s not all easy. They have three times the number of visitors each day and after waiting so long for the new library, the public has high expectations of the service we provide."

It took a total of seven years to deliver the project which has won eight awards to date including the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award and it was short listed the prestigious Stirling Award.

Katharine: "I think you can put our success down to having really open communications with everyone working on the project but also with all the other stakeholders in the community. We held regular meetings local residents associations and library amenity groups and included them all in the decision making, even down to choosing the design. We also tried to be an intelligent client and make sure the consortium was making money on the project because then we knew we would get a better deal."

Sally: "I think one of the surprising features for us is that the FM has been the one part which didn’t cause us aggravation. Through construction the focus is all on getting the building finished but then the role of FM can be neglected. We kept worrying that the FM side was going too smoothly but actually it’s just running really well."

Katharine:"We actually find the contractors are less contractual than some of our own staff on occasion; they’re very pragmatic and like to get things done. We’ve changed round the layout of the library three times since moving in and that’s never been a problem with the PFI."

Sally: "Another unique feature of this PFI is that we have included the supply of library materials, the full bibliographic services for all the 16 libraries in Brighton and Hove. There are huge benefits for me in this, I have money ring fenced for new books and no matter how bad the council finances are I can still plan my spend as no one can touch my budget."

Katharine:"I think the one thing I’ve learnt from all this is the value of an output spec. They are really hard work but a huge advantage to a project and really help to stop things coming unstuck. I actually do them for all my large projects now whether they are PFI or not. They make you tackle the important issues right at the start so that you don’t trip up over them later."

Awards to date:

• “Operational project with the Best Design”. Public Private Finance Awards 24 May
• RIBA – Regional Award for South East. Awarded 17June
• CIBSE – (Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers) “Major Project of the Year”, for Environmental Engineering. Awarded 20 June
• Sussex Heritage Awards – Award for Best Community project. Awarded 6th July
• Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award – Awarded October 13th
• British Construction Industry – Awarded 13th October Building Projects Award
• Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Public Libraries Group Award – Partnership Category - Awarded 19th October
• Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Public Libraries Group Award – Delegates Choice - Awarded 19 October at the PLG Conference