Planning achieved for sustainable redevelopment of British Library’s Boston Spa Site
Date of Article
Jan 11 2022

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Supported by Carter Jonas, British Library’s sustainable redevelopment of its Boston Spa site has been granted planning permission by Leeds City Council

  • Planned improvements will transform the Library’s site at Boston Spa into a modern and sustainable home for the UK’s growing national collection

  • New low carbon automated storage building will use the highest levels of air tightness to achieve maximum energy efficiency

  • Major refurbishment to deliver an improved environment for staff and visitors, as well as greater biodiversity

On 23 December Leeds City Council granted planning permission for the large-scale redevelopment of the British Library’s site at Boston Spa in West Yorkshire. A major construction project will transform the 44 acre site - originally a World War II armaments factory, and for the past six decades the northern home of the UK national library - into a modern archive capable of storing its growing collection for decades to come. The £95 million Government funded redevelopment will create much-needed storage capacity, with further work dedicated to improving facilities for staff and visitors and making significant improvements to the environmental sustainability of the site.

Following significant government investment announced in the March 2020 Budget, the Library is expanding and refurbishing the West Yorkshire facility just outside Boston Spa, near Wetherby. The Library’s team, supported by Carter Jonas, Project Management and Planning Consultancy teams, submitted a planning application to Leeds City Council last year. The plans reflect the importance of sustainability within the development, which will see the creation of a low carbon archive and new green spaces designed to support biodiversity. The Library’s design team will work alongside Wates Construction, architects, Carmody Groarke, building services engineers, Buro Happold, structural engineer, Price and Myers, and landscape architects J&L Gibbons to advance the aspirations for the site.

The Library has also secured a Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS) grant. An additional £8.5 million in funding means a range of energy-saving initiatives are already being introduced at the Boston Spa site, including installing:

  • Around 730 solar panels providing a minimum of 225 MWh per annum

  • A new ground source heat pump system, which will help reduce the Library’s reliance on fossil fuels and will generate an anticipated 1MW of energy – the equivalent of powering 650 average homes

  • Additional smart meters, better insulation and the replacement of low-energy efficiency fluorescent lamps within existing buildings

As part of the new development, 220km of extra shelf space will be created in a new high-density, automated storage building which will have the highest possible level of air tightness creating a low energy passive archive. Once complete visitors to the Library’s Boston Spa site will be able to see the inner workings of the spectacular storage facility through a new public viewing gallery.

The redevelopment of the site at Boston Spa will support and enable the Library’s equally ambitious plans for a major new public centre at Temple Works in Leeds city centre. In July last year, West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) released an initial £5 million of funding for urgently needed stabilisation works and detailed investigatory work to assess the viability of transforming Temple Works into a new home for the British Library in Leeds. The unrivalled collections, resources and staff based at Boston Spa would power the public-facing offering that is planned for Temple Works. 

Phil Spence, Chief Operating Officer of the British Library, said: “We are delighted that Leeds City Council have approved our plans to re-develop our site at Boston Spa to accommodate the UK’s growing national collection and build on our commitment to shaping a brighter climate future. A national library is, by its very nature, a long-term investment and an expression of hope in the future, so it’s essential that sustainability should be at the heart of this development. It marks a major step forward towards transforming our presence in the north of England and creating a sustainable British Library for everyone.”

Councillor James Lewis, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “It’s exciting to see plans to redevelop this important site take a huge step forward and for a prestigious organisation like the British Library to be demonstrating a strong commitment to Leeds and a belief that the city is a fitting home for their unrivalled collection.

“With the British Library’s plans for Temple Works also progressing, it is clear that a long term, sustainable vision for their presence in Leeds is taking shape, which will play a huge part in cementing the city’s ever-growing reputation as a centre for cultural excellence and innovation and supporting high quality jobs in the city.”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, said: "I am delighted that the British Library's planned development of sustainable storage facilities in Boston Spa has been given the green light. With Government investment, this state-of-the-art facility will help the British Library house its growing collection, expand its presence in the north and bring its ambition for a public site in the centre of Leeds a step closer." 

The British Library
We are the national library of the UK and we are here for everyone.  Our shelves hold over 170 million items – a living collection that gets bigger every day. Although our roots extend back centuries, we aim to collect everything published in the UK today, tomorrow and far into the future. Our trusted experts care for this collection and open it up for everyone to spark new discoveries, ideas and to help people do incredible things. 

We have millions of books, and much more besides. Our London and Yorkshire sites hold collections ranging from newspapers and maps to sound recordings, patents, academic journals, as well as a copy of every UK domain website and blog. Our public spaces are a place to research, to meet friends, to start up a new business or simply to get inspired by visiting our galleries and events. We work with partners and libraries across the UK and the world to make sure that as many people as possible have the chance to use and explore our collections, events and expertise. And we’re always open online, along with more and more of our digitised collection.

About the Library’s Boston Spa site
The Library’s 44-acre campus near Boston Spa is home to over three quarters of the Library's collection of over 170 million items, including books, sound recordings, maps and much more. The collection grows constantly, requiring 8km of new shelving every year – roughly the length of 80 football pitches.

The plans for Boston Spa also underpin the British Library’s ambition to open a major new public site in the centre of Leeds powered by the collections and resources based at Boston Spa.

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