Is Lambeth’s decimation of Library Service open to challenge?

A big question for Lambeth’s Save Our Libraries (SOL) campaigners will be whether to take legal advice as to whether the Council’s report complies with the outcome of the  2009 Wirral public libraries inquiry and the legal requirements set down by the Supreme Court and findings in relation to the assessment of needs of the different geographic areas covered by the changed library provision proposals being adopted by the Council Cabinet on Monday 16 October. If the legal advice considers that the Council is in breach of its obligations then SOL can consider whether to lobby the Government for an inquiry or to initiate a judicial review.

The proposals to radically alter the library service are part of an overall Culture 2020 plan.

The Major Proposals

  • There will be 4 town centre libraries at Brixton, Streatham, West Norwood, and Clapham.
  • There will be a 4 week consultation period in November 2015 to help determine if Durning library rather than Tate South Lambeth library will provide a temporary fifth town centre library in the north of the Borough until 2022, leaving the other to be a new style neighbourhood library service.
  • Waterloo, Minet and Carnegie libraries will be turned into healthy living centres opening in 2016-17, with minimum library services.
  • Continued support along with Croydon Council of the Upper Norwood Library.

Central to the strategy is Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) which runs the Council’s Leisure Centres and also the Library and Heritage Service in Wandsworth. The intention is to work ‘more closely with Greenwich Leisure Limited to develop new models of delivery under the leisure management contract, which will reduce the risk of buildings being closed permanently.’

The report states that its contract will be revised in 2016 to include the establishment of the 3 healthy living centres at Minet, Tate South and Carnegie library buildings. There seems to be a contradiction within the report as the final decision on whether to make Tate South into a neighbourhood centre or not awaits the outcome of the proposed consultation in November over the future of it and Durning Library.

A deal is to be struck with the Christian inspired Oasis trust to provide a temporary library service in at 1 Kennington Rd.

Key Elements of the Cultural Strategy

These changes are presented within a wider cultural strategy Culture 2000 covering parks, theatre, sport and healthy living, under the guise of creating:

  • a sustainable library service built around 5 town centre libraries and 5 neighbourhood libraries, which will overall be open for longer hours.
  • the establishment of a Lambeth Cultural Board to undertake an options appraisal and business case for establishing an independent and not for profit Lambeth Cultural Trust to drive Culture 2020 forward.
  • The establishment of a Cultural Sector Task and Finish Group with the aim to support a borough wide forum to strengthen ties throughout the borough.
  • adopting an Active Lambeth Plan, including an indoor and outdoor facilities plan.
  • continuing investment in the leisure centres with no plans to close any of them.
  • setting up a £10m endowment fund by 2019.
  • facilitating over £60m of investment into the Borough’s cultural infrastructure, which will stimulate the continued growth of cultural enterprises.
  • a new library, cinema and cafe facility at West Norwood, which is currently subject to a planning application, open by 2017-18.
  • an options appraisal into the long term home for the borough archives
  • a Lambeth Heritage Strategy by 2017-18.

Consultation Requirements

The officer report notes ‘that whilst the restructuring of the library service forms part of changes to a number of cultural and recreational services in Culture 2020, the duty’ under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museum Act, ‘is stand alone, and the Council must provide a library service which complies with the 1964 Act regardless of other cultural and recreational provision.’

The Council carried out an extensive consultation earlier in the year, and amendments to its initial proposals have been made.

It recognises ‘that some people will have to travel further for the same service but the quality will remain.’

Original Proposals

Originally it proposed:

  • Brixton, Clapham, Streatham and West Norwood would be town centre libraries and provide the borough’s statutory service.
  • Tate South Lambeth would act as a temporary town centre library for the north of the borough pending a future review.
  • Waterloo and Minet would be closed and sold.
  • Carnegie, Upper Norwood and Durning ‘would no longer receive council funding, but have access to funds through a specific endowment.’

Meeting Legal Requirements

It would appear that to avoid the chances of a judicial review into the consultation exercise the report goes at great length into the range of methods used and the views received.

The report cites the Local Public Library Service in Wirral (September 2009) which concluded that in deciding how to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service’ the council must assess and take into account local needs.

The report appears not to completely meet that criteria because while it has an equalities assessment it does in general terms,  it does not do it in relation to an analysis of the needs of each Town and neighbourhood centre. In relation to the potential decimation of the North Lambeth library provision it fails to take account of the growing population with new residential developments.

Lambeth Cultural Trust and Board

The idea for a not for profit Lambeth Cultural Trust has been proposed by Greenwich Leisure Limited, ‘which would be tasked with driving the Culture 2020 framework forward.’ ‘The Council accepts that such a Trust could potentially bring together a cross sector of agencies with the investment capacity to help address the needs identified within this report, which the council could not do alone.

The initial membership of the Lambeth Cultural Board will be drawn from Lambeth Council, Greenwich Leisure Limited and London Community Foundation. Additional membership will also be sought from Lambeth health providers, Lambeth College and the Southbank Quarter. So no broad community representation from across the Borough.

The purpose of the Board will be:

  • the development of integrated plans to increase the participation of Lambeth residents in cultural activities, especially those at highest risk of ill health, limited disposal income, physical disability and those above the state retirement age;
  • securing new investment into Lambeth’s cultural infrastructure; and,
  • supporting creative enterprises and routes into employment, training and volunteering opportunities for local residents.

The Board will start off ‘under the governance of Greenwich Leisure Limited.’

Durning Library

A long-term decision on the future of Durning Library is being put off for a few months.

  • ‘The practical layout of the building at Durning Library is difficult and the business model underpinning the healthy living centre proposed within this report is more suited to the Tate South Lambeth library site and will ensure library provision at both Tate South Lambeth and Durning.’
  • ‘After considering the service user profile, visits, issues and consultation feedback this report proposes that Durning Library rather than Tate South library should provide the temporary town centre library in the north of the borough.’

To prepare Durning library for its temporary status the officers propose to invest £800,000 in building alterations ‘to improve accessibility and the facilities on offer. This will also form a sound basis for a sustainable future for this well loved listed building, either as a community hub or to generate income for the council, beyond its temporary use.’

  • ‘This investment is also required given the current condition of Durning library following the protracted removal of a large tree, which was located at the rear that has held up investment for over 2 years.’
  • ‘The consultation has confirmed a lack of capacity in the local community to take on additional responsibilities for managing the Durning library building.’

The Neighbourhood Libraries

The report admits that the ‘neighbourhood locations will experience a reduction in the physical space.’ The existing service will be decommissioned to be replaced’ by:

  • self service facilities providing residents with access to a limited supply of books which they can loan and drop off, as well as, Free Wi-Fi access, computers, study space.’
  • rotating book stock ‘planned and managed by the Lambeth library service …. which will reflect local needs, culture and community languages.’
  • ‘space for community groups and small enterprises to hire.’
  • ‘Lambeth library staff to curate and tailor activity in these safe spaces to meet local needs’ but ‘no permanent Lambeth library staff on site’.

‘In mitigation’ for the changes in North Lambeth, the Council ‘is proposing to partner with Oasis Charitable Trust to initially provide a temporary neighbourhood library at the Oasis Centre’ in Kennington Road from May 2016. ‘The ambition is for Waterloo library to have a permanent home on the proposed redevelopment of the Johanna school site.’

Upper Norwood Joint Library

The future of the Upper Norwood Joint Library Trust has been a matter of uncertainty for some time, including disagreements between Lambeth and Croydon Councils  which jointly own and fund it.

A ‘community-led charity, has been seeking to transfer the building’ from the joint control of Lambeth and Croydon Councils ‘to provide a wider range of activities and services to the community for several years. Croydon council are overseeing the lease agreement for the building on behalf of both authorities.’

Despite priding itself on being a Co-operative Council the officers have reservations about ‘social enterprise models’.

  • There ‘is a degree of risk if the Trust fails to achieve a sustainable level of income to maintain the building and its associated services.’
  • ‘If this unfortunate circumstance did materialise in the future, then the building and assets, will revert back to both Croydon and Lambeth.’
  • ‘The Upper Norwood Joint Library Trust has previously sought management of the library service as part of this package. This report adjusts this approach and recommends the Trust host a Lambeth provided neighbourhood library service in the current building.’

Despite the Library being jointly owned and funded with Croydon Council the officers state:

  • ‘Lambeth will work with the London Community Foundation to facilitate a 2 year funding agreement for the maintenance of the building as a wider community facility.’
  • ‘It is anticipated that Croydon council will maintain their match funding arrangement.’
  • ‘This report recommends the current library service is decommissioned by April 2016 and is replaced by the revised neighbourhood library service thereafter.’

The officers appear to be recommending unilateral action. The views of Croydon Council are not outlined, so it seems unlikely that the officers’ recommendation is achievable without Croydon’s agreement.

Minet Library

Unlike the proposal from GLL and the proposed partnership with Oasis, the officers are not stating in the report who has submitted a proposal ‘to redevelop  …. the existing Minet library site to include mixed use, including residential, community and potential small enterprise and business units.’

As a result of this and the consultation feedback the officers are recommending:

  • ‘that disposal of the site is no longer sought and that the redevelopment option be pursued by 2020 which links to the ambitions of the Lambeth Cultural Trust and our aspiration to build new homes in Lambeth.’
  • ‘In the meantime the site will be transformed during 2016/17 into a healthy living centre providing access to a gym, neighbourhood library and the holding of the borough archive, until options appraisal has been concluded into the long-term location for the borough archives.’

So they are proposing money be spent on a short-term basis rather that keeping the current library open until the deal for redevelopment is approved.

Tate South Lambeth Library

Another major re-think by the officers relates to Tate South Lambeth Library.

  • It ‘was originally proposed as a location for the library hub servicing for the north of the borough. Following further reflection on the consultation feedback and a review of the financial impact of not having the endowment operational from 2016, this proposal is no longer being pursued.’
  • ‘This constitutes a change to what was proposed in the Culture 2020 consultation’ and the officers are recommending a 4 weeks consultation period during November 2015 on this specific issue.’
  • ‘The layout of the Tate South Lambeth library building provides a much more practical location for housing a healthy living centre, which will provide a neighbourhood library service, spaces for community groups to hire and gym facilities.’
  • ‘This model will provide a future for Tate South Lambeth beyond any new North Lambeth Library site being established, securing future community use.’

Not far away is the Wheatsheaf Community Centre, owned by Lambeth, but run by a dedicated team of local women. So the changed Library building could be a competitor in terms of hire space. There is no assessment of the impact of changing the nature of the Library on the use of this building, and whether investment in the Centre would be a better investment.

Borough Archives

The officers are recommending  that there be an options appraisal into the long term home for the borough archives, which are currently located in the basement of the Minet library. The strong concerns expressed by the trade union Unison and Lambeth Local History Forum over the original proposals to relocate the archives to Brixton Library have clearly had a major impact on the officers’ re-thinking and proposals.

The Council report

You can read the Council report here: Culture 2020

Background

For background see my blog postings:

https://seancreighton1947.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/lambeth-libraries-in-peril

https://seancreighton1947.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/lambeth-asked-to-re-think-future-of-its-archives-service

http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/is-lambeth-councils-libraries.html

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About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly, and am a member of the latter's Environment Forum. I am a member of the 5 Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee, and a Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School. I write for Croydon Citizen at http://thecroydoncitizen.com. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and advise the North East People's History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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