Brent Council has been forced to look again at how it will provide a library service when Willesden Green Library Centre closes later this year – after dozy Labour councillors failed to raise their hands when a vote was taken at Wednesday evening’s call-in committee.
Subject to planning permission being granted, the Library Centre building and the locally listed Old Library Building on the High Street are due to be demolished later this year in order to allow for the development of a new library and cultural centre and 94 new flats.
Six Liberal Democrat councillors ‘called-in’ the Labour-run Executive’s decision to proceed with the scheme because of concerns about how library services would be delivered during the closure period and the lack of adequate consultation with members of the public.
During the debate Liberal Democrat Leader Paul Lorber secured a commitment from the council’s Director of Regeneration and Major Projects Andy Donald that a resident / stakeholder liaison group would be created as part of the consultation strategy.
At the conclusion of the meeting Cllr Lorber proposed that the Executive should reconsider its proposals for the interim service delivery strategy and specifically consider the use of some closed existing libraries in the area such as Cricklewood, Kensal Rise and Neasden libraries. The recommendation was passed by two (Liberal Democrat) to one (Labour) votes. Other Labour members abstained or failed to vote. The issue will now be reconsidered by the Executive on Monday 13 February.
This is highly unusual as generally Labour members on the call-in committee vote en bloc to support Executive decisions against opposition party proposals, regardless of the merits of the arguments.
Cllr Lorber said:
I’d like to think that the Labour councillors present purposefully abstained because they sympathised with the strong arguments put forward by members of the public concerned about Brent’s Library service.
Unfortunately their grumpy response when told that 11 residents wanted to speak and their complaints afterwards suggest that they simply weren’t paying attention. I hope the Executive will listen more carefully to the good arguments being put forward when they meet in a couple of weeks time.
The questioning at the meeting also clarified a number of other issues about the project including the structure of the consultation which will include pre-planning consultation, consultation when the planning application is submitted, and post-planning consultation about the inside of the building such as what furniture to use.
However local residents will not be consulted about the principle of the redevelopment or asked whether the Old Library building at the front of the site should be torn down. At the call-in meeting it was pointed out that just 12 residents had been involved in a February 2011 consultation exercise when these issues were raised. It was also confirmed that the bookshop and BIAS would not be offered space in the new building.