Current catastrophe at Carnegie Library Beyond Belief


In April 2016, desperate library supporters occupied the Carnegie library in Herne Hill, Lambeth. The story went worldwide. When the occupiers left after 10 days, 2,000 people marched with them in the biggest demonstration seen in Lambeth in 30 years. (Pics attached)

The issue? The council had closed the library – the busiest children’s library in the borough, with all-age usage climbing fast – in order to spend millions replacing it with a gym that nobody wants. All protests had been ignored.  

The plan made no sense. 

Incredibly, it makes even less sense now. 

Work is due to start at the end of August on wrecking the listed building.

Local residents are struggling to believe that the council still persists in a scheme that looks even worse than it did year ago.

Can you believe…?

In August 2017, the library is STILL closed. Nothing has been done to the building. Yet it has continued to incur all the costs – rates, utilities, insurance etc – that it paid when open, PLUS a massive extra £93,210 on security guards (up to March 31, 2017).

Can you believe…?

Council neglect has led to flooding within the building and the spread of pernicious Japanese knotweed in its garden. Staff and the Friends of Carnegie Library formerly ensured proper routine maintenance

Can you believe…?

Lambeth is now committed to spending £1.25m of taxpayers’ money on digging a hole in the basement of the library, to accommodate the gym. Just the hole. But it has not got gym company GLL to sign a commitment to fund or operate any gym. 

Can you believe…?

Lambeth has been negotiating with GLL since at least July 2015. (The negotiations have always been kept secret, but this much has been established via Freedom of Information.)

Can you believe…?

If gym does open in the library, fit-out costs are an estimated further £1.75m. GLL will pay no rent until 2023. What happens after 2023 is unclear. Lambeth has budgeted £1m revenue to support the gym.

Can you believe…?

Neither Lambeth nor GLL have ever produced any feasibility study, business plan, financial rationale or market research to support the gym idea. Yet four local surveys have shown that local people don’t want a gym, and Lambeth’s own physical activity strategy states that no more gyms are needed in the area.

Can you believe…?

Lambeth has now decided to hand the building (via asset transfer) to the “Carnegie Community Trust” (CCT). CCT has five self-appointed trustees, no members and a structure that specifically rules out any democratic participation. It has never held a public meeting and its plans are secret. Three of the five trustees have strong connections with the ruling Labour party.

Can you believe…?

Lambeth turned down a rival bid from the “Carnegie Library Association” (CLA). CLA has nine elected trustees and over 300 members that include the Friends of Carnegie Library, all the community groups that formerly used the library and most local amenity societies. It has held an AGM and two public meetings to discuss its plans.These are fully costed and published on its website.

Can you believe…?

The “independent” board that assessed the bids was formed of four Lambeth council officers and one local business that receives money from the council.

Can you believe…?

The reasoning behind the decision is obscure. But the clincher seems to be that the CCT bid is more “ambitious” – it wants to spend £5m on unknown alterations to the building, for which it has no funding.

Can you believe…?

At recent public meeting (August 3) a CCT trustee said the idea of a gym is “a disastrous mistake”, and the CCT does not in fact have a worked-out plan at all (“The council chose the bidders, not a bid”). He added: “We don’t know if we will be able to come to any agreement.”  

Can you believe…?

Work on the building is currently due to finish in May 2018, although even the start date has been put back twice already. A substitute library is due to open at an unknown date. It will be, the council says, “staffed for approximately two hours per day … consist of self-service facilities providing residents with access to a limited supply of books available for lending and drop off” Essentially, a much diminished service.

Can you believe…?

The recent People’s Audit of Lambeth’s finances has raised serious questions about the council’s financial management, and highlighted wastage running into millions. The report includes a whole chapter on the libraries fiasco. The council has far declined to respond.

Can you believe…?

Lambeth calls itself “the co-operative council”!



07914 491 145


About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy, housing and environment issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly. I am a member of the Love Norbury Residents Associations Planning & Transport Committees, and Chair of Nobury Community Land Trust. I write for Croydon Citizen at I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and edit the North East Popular Politics database. 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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