Three important upcoming events for library supporters:
- People's Audit public meeting on the dubious and wasteful finances of Lambeth Council: Waterloo Action Centre, 14 Baylis Rd, SE1. From 11am-14pm Saturday 24th March.
- Defend The 10 demo at the Carnegie Library, 4pm Tuesday 3rd April, to mark 2 years since the closure and occupation, and 1 month to the 2018 council elections.
- Lambeth Democracy public meeting, 2pm, Saturday 7th April at Effra Space, Effra Parade. Speakers from Justice for Grenfell, Haringey housing activists, etc. The meeting will also be a campaign launch for a unified slate of pro-library candidates for the elections.
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 leaflet||Correction|
|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 2023||There 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.
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 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.
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 Library||Closed since March 2016. Proposed temporary funding as a gym, library and "church hall."|
|Durning Library||Temporarily reprieved from closure. No longer funded from the Libraries budget but instead funded one month at a time from an undisclosed Council budget.|
|Minet Library||A limited library service is being provided pending relocation of the borough's archives, which are housed in the same building.|
|Tate South Lambeth Library||As Durning Library|
|Upper Norwood Library Hub||Surviving on temporary funding from Croydon and Lambeth Councils which is due to expire two months after the Council Elections.|
|Waterloo Library||Currently 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.
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 Suggestion||The 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.|
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.
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.
The Friends are grateful to everyone who has emailed the ward councillors. The councillors have not been replying to the specific matters raised in the emails but Cllr Dickson has instead been sending out a standard email on behalf of himself and the other two ward councillors. Attached here under separate headings are corrections to some of the misinformation it contains.