Cabinet vote through strategy despite 5,000 objections
By Kim Inam
RESIDENTS leaving Barnet Council’s cabinet meeting said they were “disappointed” by the decision to axe three libraries.
For almost an hour, residents and local ward councillors pleaded with the senior councillors to rethink plans which include merging Friern Barnet and North Finchley library and relocating Hampstead Garden library.
More than 50 residents attended the meeting at Hendon Town Hall and some questioned the councillors on their plans, which incorporate the merged libraries into a new landmark arts-and-culture library at the artsdepot, in Tally Ho Corner, and relocate book stock from Hampstead Garden library to the Institute Arts Centre next to East Finchley Tube station.
More than 5,000 residents have signed petitions against the proposals.
Ten-year-old Hannah Andruiser asked the cabinet how the closure of Friern Barnet library helps to increase literacy.
She told the councillors: “My twin brother Oscar is in the library every day, so much so the librarians joke they will probably one day lock him in. I go to meet my friends and make new friends there. Where do you think I or my friends will be able to go?”
Council leader Richard Cornelius told her she would be able to make friends at the artsdepot library.
Resident Maureen Ivens highlighted the diverse needs of Friern Barnet. She said: “Any move to close the library would reduce the opportunities for job seekers and will put them at a disadvantage.”
John Marshall, councillor for Garden Suburb, defended his ward’s library saying: “At the Institute there will not be Rhymetime for children, there won’t be computers for students, it’s right on the border of the ward so it is not a suitable alternative, especially as parking in the area is so difficult.”
Kate Salinger, councillor for Coppetts ward, added: “Everything we have heard is that people of Friern Barnet don’t want to lose their library, and why should they? It doesn’t cost a lot of money to run. I’m concerned that your minds are made up and that anything I say will fall on deaf ears. You are going through the motions of democracy – some of you don’t even look like you’re listening.
“Our council is a Conservative one, and as such we should conserve what’s good. We believe in localism, so why don’t we treasure and preserve what’s local?
“People are giving us a waste disposal site, we don’t want that. We do want our library.”
But despite the representations the cabinet voted through the strategy, with a concession of allowing community groups to come forward with alternative proposals for their local libraries before the end of October. In reaction, Hannah said: “They didn’t give an answer that was worth anything. It’s not what you expect from people who should be helping you.”
Her father Tim Redmond added: “She asked a straightforward question and got a nonsensical answer.”
Student Kim Lee, who helped organise the campaign to protect Friern Barnet library, including a protest earlier this month, added: “Our campaign won’t just suddenly go away, we will look at possible options to how we can save our library.”
Robert Rams cabinet member for partnerships, told The Press he believed the cabinet’s decision had secured the future of the service for the next decade.
He said: “Library services are declining across London – we are not doing that in Barnet. We have listened and offered those in Friern Barnet and Hampstead Garden Suburb to come forward with a community use for the building or a facility in the area. Friary House is an example we could use, it was bequeathed to the council and lots of community groups work there. At the top there are three wonderful-sized rooms not currently being used. They could propose to move the stock in there for the community to run. That’s one of many options, we need not to be tied to one building.“
Mr Rams admitted the council has a lease on Hampstead Garden library until 2016, but says the plans would save £375,000. The council will now draw up a memorandum of understanding with the artsdepot board. He added: “We will move as quickly as possible, we have to make sure the gap in provision is weeks rather than months.”