Redeveloping the British Library site at Boston Spa

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View of new automated warehouse and new entrance to refurbished Urqhart building, across new landscaped square (Building 2 demolished), credit Slab / Carmody Groarke

Following significant government investment announced in the March 2020 Budget, the British Library is redeveloping its site at Boston Spa in West Yorkshire to create much-needed storage capacity for the UK national collection. 

The Library’s plans involve the construction of a new state-of-the-art storage facility and removal of buildings that are no longer fit for use. Other buildings will be refurbished to improve working environments for the Library’s 550 staff in Yorkshire, and to use the available space more efficiently. These new facilities will offer exciting possibilities for opening up our site and sharing the work of the Library with audiences, including school visits, tours, public displays and a new Reading Room, as well as a restaurant and café for visitors.

It will also underpin and make possible our ambition to open a major new public-facing site in the centre of Leeds, where we are working with Leeds City Council and property developers Commercial Estates Group to explore options for bringing the iconic Temple Works building into public use, and creating a new British Library of the North. This new city centre presence in the heart of the South Bank regeneration area of Leeds would be powered by the collections and staff resource at Boston Spa, with the goal of delivering a greatly enhanced national offer for culture, education, tourism, digital innovation and economic growth.

In spring 2021, the Library and architects Carmody Groarke are submitting a planning application to Leeds City Council for the redevelopment of the Boston Spa site, and have opened a tender process seeking to appoint a construction development partner for the project. A broader announcement on the progress of the redevelopment is planned for this summer.

The redevelopment is driven by the urgent need for more space for the British Library’s growing print collection. The 44-acre campus at Boston Spa, formerly a Second World War munitions factory, is home to more than three quarters of the Library’s collection of over 170 million items. In the last ten years around 7 million physical items have been added to the Library’s archives; requiring about 8km of new shelving annually. By the end of this decade the current storage facilities are projected to be full.

A major new storage repository will provide 220 linear km of additional capacity ensuring there is sufficient storage for the growth of the national collection into the second half of this century. A spectacular public viewing gallery will mean that school parties and other visitors will have an opportunity to see the vast scale and robotic technology of the Library’s ‘backstage’ operation in action.

As well as building the new storage repository, the plan is to consolidate and centralise onsite support functions into a newly refurbished building. This will present high quality office space accommodating streamlined operations and opportunities for improvement.  These will include relocating digital functions and new infrastructure ensuring the Library can continue to collect and provide access to both print and digital content for researchers, both now and into the future.

Sustainability will be central to the project. A statement on the British Library website says: “We want this development to be carbon neutral if possible, with an emphasis on renewable energy and energy conservation.”

The planned development will include:

  • Construction of a new high-density, automated storage building and public viewing gallery.  The storage vault will have the highest possible level of air tightness creating a low energy passive archive
  • Removal of six outdated buildings to create a series of new bio diverse green spaces
  • Refurbishment of the main staff and storage building to make it better for staff and much more energy efficient
  • Landscaping of the surrounding site, making the most of the natural environment.

Andy Groarke, Director of Carmody Groarke, says:

“The British Library’s masterplan at Boston Spa will increase the capacity and quality of storage for the national collection, create a better place for people to work and vastly improve the long-term environmental sustainability of the campus.

“We were inspired by the complex post-industrial history of the site as well as how the library have evolved their archive buildings at Boston Spa over the past five decades, to design the next generation of buildings. A new fully-automated, net-zero-carbon archive will accommodate more than 225 kilometres of collection expansion, whilst an extensive renovation of the Urquhart Building will upgrade the 1970s brutalist concrete architecture to contemporary environmental standards for 550 library staff.

“We are delighted that the project will enable the British Library to give the campus a more public-facing presence and to provide long-term care for the national collection in a far more sustainable way.”

The British Library aims to open its new spaces at Boston Spa by 2026.

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