Thursday, 2 February 2012

Executive asked to reconsider Willesden Green interim arrangements

The Call In and Scrutiny Overview Committee tonight passed a motion that  called on the Executive to reconsider their interim service plan for the period of the Willesden Green redevelopment to include the possibility of using existing closed library buildings in order to provide a comprehensive and financially viable library service.

Amid chaotic scenes Brent legal officers present appeared to indicate that the effect of this was to postpone any signing of an agreement with the developer until the Executive had considered the motion from Scrutiny. This will put back the timetable for the regeneration which is already running behind schedule.The anticipated signing date of February 2nd  was only revealed after the vote.

The next Executive is on February 13th and will already have a full agenda which includes the budget. Although the Executive routinely votes down referrals from Scrutiny Committee there will be a further chance for the public to make representations.

Eleven members of the public spoke tonight.

Much of what they had to say was concerned with the poor consultation over the plans.  It emerged that the 'stakeholder consultation' consisted of two evening focus group meetings attended by 5 and 7 people respectively who were unrepresentative of Brent's population. Several complained that there had been no mention of the Willesden Green closure when the Library Transformation plans were discussed and users of the closed libraries had been told that Willesden Green was their nearest alternative,

There were pleas from several different library campaigners for the closed down libraries to be reopened to provide an interim service. If Willesden Green had been near enough to be an alternative for their closed library then the reverse must also be true. A Kensal Rise campaigner argued that there was no justification for paying rent on temporary buildings when that purpose built library was available rent free and had enough space for the Brent Archives.

Nicolette McKenzie from Mapesbury Residents  made an impassioned plea for the Willesden Bookshop. She said that most cultural centres have a bookshop.  Although the bookshop was not part of the council's core service it was part of the bigger moral contract between the council and local residents. She said that the council needed to make some compromise and show goodwill towards residents.

Alison Hopkins for Dollis Hill and Neasden residents reminded the council that they had spent £300,000 on refurbishment of Neasden and were paying rent of £55,000 plus security costs on a building that could be put to use. The area was one of high deprivation and badly need the library..

Jacky Baines said that there had been no consultation over the of the old Willesden Library building and called on the council to listen to residents. She said that an epetition had been launched on the council website. (Available HERE)

Simon Hawkins, speaking for Brondesbury residents said that the first they had heard of the proposals was on January 16th. On the  focus groups he said it was wrong that so much was decided by so few. Consultation was now available only when detailed plans existed and decisions were being made by small groups behind closed doors. He said interim arrangements were incoherent and residents needed reassurance that the project was not a housing scheme with a small ill-thought out library space. He asked what justification there was for removing the cinema. Contrasting the success of the Tricycle he said that the Willesden Green Library Centre had been badly managed and needed a manager of real calibre.

Responses from Cllr Crane (leader member for regeneration and major projects) and Andy Donald, the officer concerned, reiterated that the present building was not fit for purpose and would cost too much to refurbish and anyway the council did not have the money. A developer partnership meant that the project was cost neutral with the council gaining the freehold of the new building by handing council land (the library car park and a section of Chambers Lane) over to the developer for housing.

Fuller version of this post available HERE

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