Outside Friern Barnet Library in April 2012 during the sit-in.The fight to save Friern Barnet Library had been going on for some time, the decision to close the library was made in July 2011. Thousands of local residents supported a petition to keep the library open. It was a much needed resource and community meeting point not just for residents but for teachers and local schools, local authors, history groups, mothers and pre-school children, voluntary services, as well as for disabled and elderly people. The purpose-built library had a ramp leading to its doors, and did not need any alteration or refurbishment. When I was a teenager, I used the library along with many of my friends. It had a nostalgic value not just for me but for many other users. Over the years, I would visit this lovely snug library that had a feel of a home from home. Sometimes to listen to local authors, or return a book on my way to work or to visit friends.
On the day the council closed the library, without any alternative service in place, I felt so frustrated on behalf of the campaigners that I decided to start another petition. One to RE-OPEN the library: ‘We the residents, students and workers of Friern Barnet, are petitioning Barnet Council to RE-OPEN our local library. Friern Barnet Library in its present place and shape is an integral part of community life in the surrounding area. We want a cheerful Local library. This is a chance for Barnet Council to show they ARE listening to local residents and reverse the bad feeling caused by the closure of this lovely library.’
Sign the petition here: http://petitions.barnet.gov.uk/RE-OPENFBLIB/#detail
At the last count, there were 2,578 signatures, both online and on paper. Because it totalled more than 2,000 this meant that: ‘Petitions of over 2000 signatures will be considered at the Business Management Overview & Scrutiny Committee, where an officer will be called to give account. The lead Petitioner will have the right to address the Committee for five minutes.’
So I was invited to make a speech Tuesday 31st July, 7pm, in Hendon Town Hall, at the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee. After the usual thanks and introductions, I began:
It is now over three months since the Library closed. We can report that the new artsdepot service has not been a success and the closure of Friern Barnet Library has been a major blow to the people of Friern Barnet. The temporary library in the Artsdepot has an average footfall of only three people per day and on some days, no-one comes at all. This shows that the people who used to use Friern Barnet library are not using the Artsdepot.
The artsdepot space is costing £34,200 in rent alone, and is only open for 12 hours per week. The Landmark Library will need more space so the council will have even more rent to pay. We believe that this rent has not been factored into calculations and will make the landmark library seriously over budget. Surely using an existing purpose-built library that we already own, is a much more efficient way to spend the money.
We can also report that the library closure has affected Friern Barnet town centre. Local shopkeepers report that their sales are down and they have been hit very hard since the closure.
The Rose Mini Market said they are now losing £1,500 a week.Plaza Pizza - indicated their takings are down by over £700.00 per month.
And Anika News, reported that their turnover had fallen by between 35-40%.
As with the parking policies - the closure of Friern Barnet Library is a policy decision that is having a disastrous financial effect on the surrounding area.
What people want for Friern Barnet has been expressed through the Library Strategy Consultation.- 91% of the users of Friern Barnet library, strongly disagreed with the proposed closure. Further to this, two petitions have been submitted, protests staged, many letters written. Despite all this, the closure went ahead and it is this determination to proceed against the expressed wishes of the people that has caused such ill-will and resentment. People want their libraries to be local. People have been telling the council this since 2007:
I believe the financial case put to council so far has been unsound and needs to be looked into further. The total running costs for Friern Barnet Library for the last financial year, were £117,650 and I believe that although represents good value for money in providing an essential service for the people of Friern Barnet. The running costs could be substantially reduced by cooperating with the local community as has already happened in the case of Hampstead Garden Suburb library.
We ask that the library is re-opened in the existing building in Friern Barnet Road which is a purpose-built library, of considerable architectural merit and an important local landmark.
We want to work with Barnet Council to maintain a comprehensive and effective library service. There are local community groups that have all sorts of ideas to make the maximum use of the Friern Barnet Library Building including long-term commitment from local businesses, schools, and resident groups.
Over the years, Friern Barnet’s losses have included its Town Hall, its Ward Name, its Day Centre in the Old Fire Station - it must not now lose its Library.
The Library has provided a valuable local service and community focus as well as providing for the increased local population arising from the Friern Hospital Development.
Further, because of the distances involved the service cannot be satisfactorily and safely replicated and accessed at North Finchley.
We appreciate the Council’s difficult financial position but in accordance with the Council’s 2012-13 Corportate Plan”, believe that a re-opened library can provide:
- Better services with less money
- Sharing opportunities, sharing responsibilities and
- A successful London Suburb
I received a huge round of applause. But, the speech, although delivered by me was in fact a fantastic collaboration by the local community. This included, Robert Newton, Chairman of the Greenacre Project, Joanna Fryer, Maureen Ivens, Shari Darby, and Fiona Brickwood from the Save Friern Barnet Library Group, and Mike Gee, founder of the Greenacre Movement and Secretary for the Finchley Society Transport and Environment Committee.
Keith Martin described how Kate Salinger 'tore into her Tory colleagues and their stupid decisions. She described her former visits with her children to Friern Barnet library after school and contrasted it with a bus trip in the current century with children from Friern Barnet to Tally Ho. The interim library is a PALTRY SOP, and not a patch on what is offered by
Pauline Coakley Webb (Labour Councillor) made the point that Hampstead Garden Suburb Library run by volunteers and said to cost the council, 'low or no cost', had in fact cost £25,000 in funding, the cost of the lease, utility bills, the supply of new books, IT equipment including computers and library software and they can reserve books from Barnet Council library stock!
A vote was then taken. It was almost unanimous that the petition should be referred back to Cabinet. We were overjoyed!
(Photo taken by: Cllr. Arjun K Mittra)
Suddenly there was confusion. The committee 'seemed' not to know what they were doing and how the petition should be sent back to cabinet. Cllr. Brian Salinger said it should go to committee, Cllr. Hugh Rayner (Chair) said it should go to the cabinet member and the Barnet Council legal adviser said it shouldn't go anywhere. What a lark, what a fiasco. One ex-Tory councillor told me he was embarassed by the Committee's incompetence. Eventually it was decided that the committee's recommendation that the matter should in fact go to the cabinet, was in fact going to be thrown in the wastepaper bin by the:
Cabinet Member for Customer Access and Partnerships (Cllr. Robert Rams)