Controversial plans to build the new library of Birmingham on two sites are close to being abandoned.
City council officials have begun looking at fresh alternatives based on locating the whole project – lending, reference, archives and family history sections – on land between the Repertory Theatre and Baskerville House, in Centenary Square.
But because the site, presently used as a car park, is cramped engineers are considering tunnelling down to create additional space for subterranean floors.
Another option could involve constructing part of the new library on nearby Cambridge Street, with a pedestrian bridge linking to the Centenary Square building.
News of the possible change of heart emerged six years after plans to replace the 1960s Central Library in Paradise Forum were first proposed and almost a year after the council cabinet provoked public opposition by deciding to build the new library on two sites, with the lending and reference section at Centenary Square and the archives and family history section at Eastside.
Plans for a £180 million "iconic" library at Eastside, by the award-winning architect Lord Rogers, were dropped.
Council leader Mike Whitby said then that the two-centre option made "perfect sense", both financially and from the library users' point of view.
But the idea was criticised by a scrutiny committee, which warned that the two buildings more than half a mile apart would be inconvenient for people wanting to visit both the lending and archives section.
Last night, Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) insisted several options remained on the table.
He said: "I have tasked council officers with looking at a whole range of design proposals for constructing a library on the Centenary Square site. This will be a massively important civic building and it is vital that we do not repeat the design mistakes of the past.
"Once the officers, working with our project managers Capita Symonds, have developed their business case they will bring their proposals to me for approval.
"In addition, I have established a library consultative group to help determine what needs to be included in the building and to look at a number of factors that influence its design. This exciting work is very much an ongoing process."
The cost of constructing two buildings, at Centenary Square and Eastside, was estimated at £147 million. It is not known whether a revised plan would be cheaper or more expensive.
There are technical restrictions at Centenary Square, where tunnelling could disturb the water table and an underground railway line. However, the final decision may lay outside of the council's remit.
A £55 million bid for PFI funding, to be submitted to the Government later this year, is thought to stand a better chance of succeeding if all of the library buildings remain on a single site.
Sir Albert Bore, leader of the opposition Labour group, is continuing to campaign for the library to be built at Eastside, where he believes it would add to the attraction of the fast-growing regeneration area.
Sir Albert (Lab Ladywood) added: "It doesn't surprise me that the split site option is being reconsidered. It never stacked up and very few people believed in it."