All posts by Nicholas Edwards

Wasting a fortune for no reason

Detailed condition reports from architects and surveyors have confirmed that the library building:

  • Is in good condition, and
  • Can be expected to remain so for the next decade or two provided a proper programme of routine maintenance is carried out.

Specifically, the architects and surveyors advised that the roof gutters must be cleared of leaves twice a year to prevent the gutters overflowing and discharging rainwater into the front rooms of the building.

Clearing the gutters is a simple matter of accessing the roof from inside the building through a trap door and then walking along behind the parapet walls collecting the leaves.

For years Lambeth's property management failed to clear the gutters until water came in and eventually spent a six figure sum on repairs to plaster mouldings damaged by the water.  After the repairs Lambeth still omitted to clear the gutters.

Shortly before the Council's cultural services were due to be inspected by the Audit Commission the Friends complained to the Commission about this and other matters.  A one-year contract to clear the gutters quarterly was put in place before the Commission's inspection team arrived.  At the end of the year it lapsed and water came in again.  Lambeth insisted that the contract could not be renewed because "no paper trail" existed for setting it up in the first place.

In response to further complaints Lambeth responded that library staff must wait for the gutters to overflow before the gutters could be cleared because Lambeth did not have a budget for "preventive maintenance" of library buildings but only a budget for "reactive maintenance."

Eventually the library service gave up hope of getting any sense out of the property managers and themselves arranged for the gutters to be cleared twice a year.  There was then no further ingress of water for a few years until Lambeth closed the Library in March 2016 and handed control of the building to its property managers.  The gutters were due to be cleared the next month but this was not done and more water came in. The necessary routine clearing was still not arranged.  The front rooms are currently too damp to occupy.  The plaster work is in a disgusting state and will no doubt require more very expensive repairs.  The following photograph was taken in April last year.  The damage will no doubt be far worse by now.

Lambeth have saved hundreds of pounds by omitting to clear the gutters and then spent tens of thousands of pounds repairing the damage which they knew would inevitably result.  In due course they will no doubt argue that the building has to be sold because its maintenance costs are so high.  To add to the cost Lambeth have had their contractors put up scaffolding twice for no reason, damage and then replace roof slates and done completely unnecessary work to the roof.  Details are here.

Mystery Leaflet

A leaflet about the library and proposed events in Brockwell Park has been produced and distributed by some local residents and library supporters.

This was not produced by the Friends, and some of the information contained in the leaflet is incomplete.  Here are corrections:

The information in the leafletCorrection
Staff from the gym operator, GLL, will supervise the library.The library will not be effectively supervised except when library staff are present.  We are told this will be about two hours a day.
The library will be open when library staff are not present.This is only a temporary arrangement which we expect to end two months after the Council Elections.
Carnegie Community Trust has three active members.There were five members, that is, trustees and there does not appear to have been any change of substance.  The two members who are most obviously Labour activists connected to Lambeth have resigned as trustees but continue as volunteers.
There is no evidence that the gym will make a profit or contribute funding to the library.All the evidence indicates that the gym will always need subsidising.
GLL will not pay rent until 2023There are no grounds for  expecting the gym to last until 2023.

 

We sent a summary of the arrangements for Carnegie Library to Cllr Sonia Winifred, who is Lambeth's Cabinet Member responsible for libraries, and copied in the senior Herne Hill councillor, Jim Dickson.  We asked her to come back to us if anything in it  needed correction.  A month has elapsed without any response and we therefore infer that the summary is accurate in all respects.  A copy is here.

Funny Money

Contrary to what Lambeth say:

  • What they are doing to our library is not a money saving exercise.
  • The planned gym will always need subsidising and it will never make a contribution to the cost of the library.

Although the reduction in library opening hours would save about £125,000 a year in staff costs, Lambeth appear to be providing about the same amount to their Carnegie Community Trust to run the main room as a Church hall type of facility instead of the previous flexible use as a library and hall.  So there would not be any saving overall.

The disclosed estimates of the capital costs of the building works total £3 million.  Final costs of Lambeth projects always seem to be a multiple of the original estimates.  We should therefore expect the final cost of the works to be at least £5 million.  Lambeth are currently borrowing at 4.7% per annum.  Assuming a generous 20 years for repayment the financing costs come out at £400,000 a year.  The basement is not deep enough for a gym and there are many cheaper gyms offering more facilities in locations more convenient for almost anyone who wants a gym.  It would be hopelessly unrealistic to expect the gym to attract enough custom to cover its running costs, let alone generate an additional £400,000 a year to cover the financing costs.

One view is that Councillors are just indulging themselves at the People's expense in the standard Lambeth nonsense of always having money for pet projects but not for services to the public.  For example, Lambeth are simultaneously:

  • Spending about £100 million on "Your Nu Town Hall."
  • Refusing to pay the water bill of £2,000 a year for the paddling pool in Ruskin Park.  They say that the Friends of Ruskin Park, whose volunteers already manage and clean the pool, must pay this in future.

However, there is a more sinister aspect to the current and proposed building work to the library in that all of it is more consistent with Lambeth's previously announced plan to sell the library for redevelopment than with providing a gym in the basement or restricting the use of the ground floor.  The details are here.

Lambeth’s Plans Summarised

Lambeth's plans for our library are complicated and presented by them in ways which are confusing.  The Friends have therefore tried in the following summary to describe all the key features as clearly as possible.  For the sake of simplicity we have omitted the scandalous waste of money involved.

 

Lambeth plan to open a library in the building in February, then open a gym confined to the basement in June and finally open the main room as a sort of church hall at an unknown future date.  Neither the library nor the gym or the hall if it ever opened would be viable.

 

The library would have barely enough books and these would be in a cramped space.  There would not be a separate children's library, only a small area with furniture for children.  There would not be room for a Teen Zone or space for socialising or group activities.  The library would only be open for about two hours a day and it would be staffed by only one person, either a Library Assistant or a professional Librarian.  In a matter of months Lambeth would no doubt announce that the library is not attracting enough visits or lending sufficient numbers of books to justify the space and quantity of books devoted to it.

 

The gym would not have enough headroom for users to raise their hands above their heads or jump.  This disadvantage combined with competition from cheaper gyms with more facilities in locations more convenient for most potential users strongly suggests that it would never break even financially.

 

The hall after removing the bookcases and covering the glazed partitions would be an unattractive, echoey space with plain walls and the building would not have a kitchen.  The existing kitchen and the small meeting room next to it are currently being converted to toilets for users of the hall.

 

Even Lambeth's "community group" who would be expected to run the hall, Carnegie Community Trust, say that the plans are not feasible.  They object that Lambeth could terminate their payments to the Trust in respect of the spaces occupied by the library and gym at any time, which would force the Trust into insolvency.

 

Lambeth intend to open the library 11 weeks before the Council Elections after keeping the library closed for nearly two years.  They plan to have the library open for 40 hours a week or more until a few weeks after the Elections instead of the usual two hours a day.  It should be readily apparent that all this is blatant electioneering.

 

The Friends will continue the campaign for restoration of the library comprising properly staffed suitable spaces for library use and activities compatible with a library.

Some Context

Lambeth has been pursuing the current round of library closures on and off since 1999, saying that ten libraries should be reduced to five "Town Centre Libraries" or "Centres of Excellence,"  though in fact six of the ten libraries are threatened with permanent closure:

Carnegie LibraryClosed since March 2016.  Proposed temporary funding as a gym, library and "church hall."
Durning LibraryTemporarily reprieved from closure.  No longer funded from the Libraries budget but instead funded one month at a time from an undisclosed Council budget.
Minet LibraryA limited library service is being provided pending relocation of the borough's archives, which are housed in the same building.
Tate South Lambeth LibraryAs Durning Library
Upper Norwood Library HubSurviving on temporary funding from Croydon and Lambeth Councils which is due to expire two months after the Council Elections.
Waterloo LibraryCurrently housed in a small room temporarily available behind a cafe in an Evangelical Christian Centre.

 

Public opposition has kept the Council at bay for the past 19 years and Defend the 10 are continuing a determined campaign to keep all the libraries.

Although Lambeth's current plans for our library are unworkable, Carnegie Library Association have produced a fully-costed business plan which uses the income-generating potential of the building to cover its costs and produce a surplus to buy in a library service from Lambeth in the spaces we had before closure.  Lambeth have rejected the plan so far but the Association continue to offer it and make clear that they are ready to take over the whole building.

The current work to the basement will reduce its rental value because the basement office previously used by the library Home Visit Service would be lost.  This loss would only be partly compensated for by the excavation increasing by 150% the lettable area of the windowless part of the basement.  However, the overall amount concerned is only about £3 500 a year and not therefore of great importance.

Fortunately most of the changes Lambeth plan to the ground floor are reversible by a combination of voluntary and paid work.  The necessary money should be easy to crowd fund because the Association has hundreds of members and many more local people want the library back on a long-term genuinely sustainable basis.

Current Lambeth Leaflet

Lambeth are currently delivering a grossly misleading leaflet to homes in Herne Hill Ward.  Lambeth's current plans would not provide a viable library or a viable gym.  The library would not have sufficient space, staffing or hours to attract enough users to justify the cost of keeping it open once next year's Council Elections were out of the way.

Below are some of the specific things the leaflet says or clearly implies and the true situation in respect of each:

Lambeth's SuggestionThe Truth
The library was closed for building work.The library was closed 17 months before the date programmed for starting the work.  The date planned for reopening is 11 weeks before the Council Elections.
 GLL, who are expected to run the gym, also run libraries and will provide staff "in the library" to "assist library users."From time-to-time GLL would have sales staff for the gym, not library staff, in the front entrance lobby on the ground floor of the building, not the library.  When they were present there would be public access to the library.  The library would not be staffed or supervised except that a Library Assistant or Librarian would visit for about two hours most days.
The GLL staff will be present for 40 hours a week and this "will increase."Lambeth are arranging for the sales staff to be present for 40 hours a week until after the Council Elections. For a brief period after the gym opens longer hours can be expected as GLL attempt to sell gym memberships.  Thereafter the hours can be expected to reduce, eventually to nothing.
Lambeth excavated the basement to accommodate the gym.The basement excavation and its depth were proposed years before the gym.  The excavated basement is not deep enough for a gym, that is, for users to jump or raise their hands above their heads.

 

The gym "will provide an income stream for the building."There is competition from leisure centres and other gyms, all offering much better or cheaper facilities in locations that are more convenient for most people.  This strongly suggests that the gym would always require subsidy to cover its running costs.
GLL will "pay a £1 million contribution."All the money being spent is Lambeth's.  £1 million of it would be spent on improving the Council's leisure centres if it were not being wasted on the gym.
Capital spent on providing the gym is an investment which will generate a return in the long run.This is completely fanciful.  The "investment" appears to be about £5 million.  Lambeth is currently borrowing money for 20 years at 4.7% per annum.  To produce an overall profit the gym would need to generate a surplus of     £400 000 a year. 
Carnegie Community Trust is a community organisation and independent of the Council.The Trust was set up at Lambeth's behest and is financially dependent on the Council.  By its constitution the Trust is specifically prohibited from having voting members other than its trustees.
Carnegie Community Trust would "oversee" the library.The Trust was set up to replace the library with something which is not a library.  The aim has always been to replace Council funding with grants that are not available for libraries.  From the outset the Trust's original predecessor, Carnegie Project Group, was adamant that a library could therefore only be accommodated as a commercial tenant paying a market rent plus service charges.
The changes to Carnegie Library would save the Council money.The library before it closed was open for 36 hours a week with two or three staff usually present.  Substituting a single member of staff visiting for two hours a day on, say, five days a week would save about      £125 000 a year.  But to set against this there would be the rent payable by Lambeth to the Trust of about £35 000 a year and the grant from Lambeth to the Trust of £40 000 a year.  Additionally, the Trust instead of Lambeth would take hire fees from desk spaces of about    £50 000 a year.  So there would not be a saving even if the astronomic cost of the gym were ignored.

 

 

It’s a Start

As the May Council Elections approach, Lambeth are becoming somewhat more informative. Campaigners for the library now need to keep up and intensify the pressure for reinstatement of our library.

The latest from Lambeth is:
• They have stopped vacillating about whether the gym operator, GLL, would use the ground floor. The gym definitely will be confined to the basement even though this will not be deep enough for users to raise their hands above their heads or jump.
• Before the Council Elections and possibly as early as mid-February, a library service will be provided in the two rooms either side of the main entrance lobby, which are mirror images of each other. The room on the left is the one which used to be divided by a stud partition to provide the Children's Library and the Art Gallery. One room would contain 18,000 books, leaving very little room for people. The other would contain computers and study space. There would not be any space for socialising or group activities. No staff would be based on site but a single Library Assistant or Librarian would visit for about two hours most days.
• Gym users would normally enter the gym at basement level using a card-in-a-slot machine. Additionally, GLL would have a reception desk in the main entrance lobby and the library would be open, though unsupervised, whenever the reception were staffed. This is expected to be as much as 70 hours a week for a time after the gym opens and GLL are trying to sell gym memberships but can be expected then to drop off, eventually to nothing. Additionally, Lambeth have arranged for GLL to staff the reception for 36 to 40 hours a week from the opening of the library until the gym opens a few weeks after the Elections.
• The Trust would have the main room as a hall to hire out or pay people to use. The public will not be allowed to see inside it until after the Elections. The kitchen and adjoining small meetings room are being converted into toilets for the users of the hall, leaving the building without a kitchen.

The gym, library and hall are all clearly not viable but the current plans are an improvement on what Lambeth, GLL and the Trust were saying previously. The Friends will continue the campaign for reinstatement of a proper library and hope that the campaign will have even more support than ever in the run-up to the Elections.

WINTER FAIR: NEW VENUE, NEW DETERMINATION

For the second year running, we are holding our Winter Fair in exile. From 1999 to 2015, the fair, spread over the public library rooms, grew to become the most popular one around, an unmissible event for people of all ages. With the library closed, we are continuing to stage a fun day for all, to show we are still here.

This year we will be in St Saviour’s Church Hall on Saturday 2 December, open from 11.00 – 3.00, with an array of community stalls, craft stalls, a raffle, refreshments, activities for children and a few surprises. Come along and show your support for our campaign to reopen Carnegie Library, not as a diminished so-called ‘neighbourhood library’ but with full service.

We understand St Saviour’s roof is in need of repair. This may restict our space a bit; but we will make the most of it. The lovely 1914 arts & crafts building was listed Grade II the same year (1981) as the library.

We have adopted the phoenix image this year as it symbolises rebirth and surmounting great obstacles. With it, we send a message to Lambeth Council in the words of Maya Angelou:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Bouncing bookshelves

Readers with the time and patience to follow the Carnegie Library saga will be aware that councillors are discussing the future of the building and its grounds with a group comprising three of their fellow activists from the right of the Labour Party, Carnegie Community Trust.

Contrary to what they were saying previously, the Trust have now disclosed that they will accept the gym Lambeth have been proposing. This might be an indication that Lambeth are nearing a definite commitment to go ahead with the gym and that we should therefore be intensifying our campaign against it.

The basement excavation currently being carried out was decided on long before the gym proposal and it is not deep enough for activities which involve jumping or participants raising their hands above their heads. GLL, the company which would run the gym, say that they would need to have "Body Pump" and other vigorous group exercise classes on the ground floor. The Consulting Engineers appointed by Lambeth advise that, if there is to be gym use on the ground floor, the floor will need to be strengthened and damping inserted to contain vibration.

Over the past few years, the Friends have repeatedly asked Lambeth and the Trust's predecessors what steps would be taken to reduce vibration but no commitment to do anything in this respect has ever been made. When granting Planning Permission for the gym Lambeth's Planning Committee avoided making a decision on the uses of the ground floor by delegating this for future decision by a Council officer.

Although there would be a library service of some kind on the ground floor, we appear to be heading towards a situation where this would be disrupted by bouncing of the floor whenever a gym class was in progress. There would also be a risk of damage to the building, especially the internal glazing, and eventually of the floor collapsing. We must put a stop to this nonsense.

The Councillors’ Recent Leaflet

After lavishing money on keeping Carnegie Library closed for a year and a half, Herne Hill's Councillors are now claiming credit for the future reopening of the building, including a library.

Their recent leaflet predicts reopening "around Christmas 2017 or January 2018." This does not make sense in relation to a library service. The excavation work is programmed to last from now into late April. It will be very noisy and therefore incompatible with a library. If Lambeth go ahead with the gym that would entail further months of noisy work.

As the Councillors have never done anything to support the library and they are in danger of losing the Council Election in May 2018, their concern is likely to be the Election. They may not care whether the library would be usable or not, so long as they can distribute a leaflet a few weeks before the election claiming to have reopened the library. This would not mislead those of us who take a close interest in the library but might confuse others into thinking the situation is satisfactory.

The people distributing the recent leaflet door-to-door appear to have refrained from delivering it to homes displaying posters in support of the library. From this we can reasonably infer that the leaflet is indeed intended only for the less well informed.