Herefordshire’s Conservatives have been accused of being reckless with public money in pushing ahead with creating Hereford’s new library in the Shirehall, as the project took a step closer.

Green group leader Coun Ellie Chowns claimed the county’s Conservative-run administration “is signing a blank cheque for what risks being a white elephant” in the mothballed 19th-century building on St Peter’s Square.

The council’s cabinet yesterday (October 26) approved a report backing the  Shirehall option over the previous plan to put the new library in the council-owned Maylord Orchards shopping centre, as part of a government-funded regeneration programme for the city.

But Coun Chowns questioned the cost comparisons given in the report, saying: “We as councillors have a responsibility to make our own calculation, which should include the nearly £1.1 million cost of abandoning Maylord.”

A new library could have been completed there by 2025 within the £3 million government grant, she said – whereas switching to Shirehall “will cost this council at least £8 million” given the extensive repair work needed, and would not be complete until 2029.

She was backed by Independents for Herefordshire leader Coun Liz Harvey, who said such a commitment “would hold this council’s arm up its back”, given the ongoing cost pressures on its children’s services department in particular, and called it “an emotional, not a business decision”.

Council leader Coun Jonathan Lester said: “It’s clear from the business case that there are great advantages to putting the library in Shirehall.

“We are the custodian of this key civic building, and this will give it a purpose in perpetuity. It’s too good an opportunity to miss.”

Meanwhile there are “lots of opportunities to maximise the commercial use of Maylord for the council” without the proposed library, he added.

Cabinet member for assets Coun Harry Bremer added on this: “We have commercial interest in the former Wilko unit [in Maylord], and are seeking to bring those interests into a formal letting.”

True Independents leader Coun Bob Matthews said he was “surprised that Shirehall was not considered earlier” as a venue for the library, which his group now “fully supports”.

He was told that the courts service had previously intended resuming its use of the building, but no longer does.

For the Liberal Democrats, Coun Terry James said: “I’ve yet to hear from the opponents of this plan what they’re going to do with [Shirehall], and how they’ll pay for it.”