Wednesday 23 May 2012

Brent libraries: the situation

Here's a letter I received about the situation with Brent libraries. I am reprinting it in its entirety with permission from its writer, Gill Wood

Dear Michael,

I was intrigued and frankly flabbergasted to read the email Councillor James Powney sent you about Brent's intentions to issue every child with a library card posted on your blog on 27th April.
You may be aware that Brent Council closed half of its libraries last year, and concerned residents in Willesden Green are fighting the Council's current proposals to demolish the library we have here, not even 30 years old, as well as the original Victorian Library building that has been on the site since 1894 and built by the poor ratepayers of the area at the time who recognised the importance of literacy to their population. The plans will also evict our much loved Willesden Bookshop, which specialises in children's and multicultural books, and has supplied books at a discount to most of the schools in Brent and beyond in the twenty three years they have been on the site. The Council plans to give a housing developer valuable public land [the library car park at the back of the building] in return for a new cultural centre building and five blocks of luxury flats. The new building will have a smaller footprint than the one we currently have, and inspite of the need for affordable housing for those on the Council's ever increasing lists, there is no affordable housing provision included in the proposed development. The Council gets a new building and the freehold of a smaller plot, and the developer ends up with a new housing scheme it can sell at market rate.
There is a huge danger that we will lose our bookshop because it will not be able to afford the commercial rates it will need to meet. I was at a Brent Executive meeting when the same Councillor Powney (who voted for this development along with the rest of the Executive without allowing those residents and stakeholders in the library a full and substantive consultation about the plans) told those present that the retail space in the new building will be "high end" commanding a high rent, which the bookshop will not be able to manage. I consequently find his comments to you outrageous and incredibly offensive.
The Council has now posted the planning applications on its website and Brent residents now have until the end of May to write to the planning officer, Andy Bates [] and lodge their objections. This is the last opportunity for those of us whose views have been ignored up to this point to make our voices heard before it is too late. I would like to urge every Brent resident who has concerns to write within this crucial consultation period and make their views known.

 Numbers crunched by the SOS Libraries Campaign based on the Council's own figures show that in the period between October 2011 to March 2012 (6 months after the libraries closed) 152,000 fewer books were issued and Brent libraries received 148,250 fewer visits compared with the same period the previous year. 54% of borrowers from the 6 closed libraries have not subsequently used another Brent library. The statistics and the actions of the Council speak for themselves.
It is a laudable intention to issue every child with a library card. It would be even better for those children to be within easy reach of a library which will allow them to use it.
Here we have a Council actively terminating the life of a small business at the heart of our community and choking off opportunities for children to read, thereby reducing opportunities to raise the borough's poor literacy rates for the sake of a developer's profit margin. This is being brought about by councillors, like Lead Member Powney and the newly elected Council Leader Muhammad Butt, who are supposed to be acting in the best interests of the ratepayers who elected them.
I just thought you may like to know.
Yours sincerely,
Gill Wood
Keep Willesden Green