Construction consultants Capita Symonds have been appointed by Birmingham City Council to project manage and develop the business case for a #150 million scheme to replace the Central Library.

The decision will drive forward work on the prestige project with a view to submitting a bid for PFI funding to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport by the middle of next year, council leader Mike Whitby said last night.

Capita have been hired to look at the feasibility and the cost of constructing a landmark building off Centenary Square, between Baskerville House and the Repertory Theatre.

An international design competition will be staged by the council to select architects for the project.

The new Library of Birmingham was described by Coun Whitby as a "world class" lending and reference resource for learning, information and culture.

"It will be a social, creative and cultural destination, open and welcoming and accessible to all citizens," he added.

The consultants will also consider the possibility of building a separate archive and family history centre.

The proposal for a split-site library was widely criticised when it was first put forward by the council's ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

A council scrutiny committee questioned whether having two buildings more than half a mile apart would be the best outcome for library users.

Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) said he continued to believed the archives would be best placed at Millennium Point, in Eastside, although he would be prepared to consider any alternative sites put forward by Capita.

"I still think that Eastside, the original heart of Birmingham, is the right place for a heritage and archival attraction which would have a major appeal to people," he added.

Questions remain over the funding of the project, which will rely to a large extent on the council winning PFI credits from the Government. But even a successful PFI application is unlikely to raise enough money to deliver both library buildings.

Coun Whitby said he was discuss-ing innovative funding methods with other organisations, but declined to go into detail.

He added: "It is our intention and determination to build a world class internationally acclaimed library.

"This is an exciting scheme and we are making progress with the proposals to develop a civic landmark scheme for Birmingham. We are now on a firm path towards turning the vision for the Library of Birmingham into reality."

Capita Symonds will produce a business case by March next year and decisions on funding are expected by the end of 2007.

The firm has previously been involved in developing the Liverpool Central Library and rebuilding the British Library in London.

Executive director Graham Cowley, said: "We are delighted to be associated with this nationally significant project."