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LIBRARY SUPPORTERS DEMAND ANSWERS TO BARHAM PARK BUILDINGS MYSTERY
Campaigners to re-open Barham Park Library are demanding an explanation for why Labour-run Brent Council is ignoring its own decisions about the future of the library building. The library was closed by Labour Councillors two years ago and has lain empty ever since despite the willingness of the Friends of Barham Library charity to lease the old library premises. The charity has plans to re-open the library for the benefit of the local community.
Labour councillors sparked controversy in February 2013 when they blocked Friends of Barham Library’s bid for space in the library building. Instead they opted for a bid from ACAVA (Association for Cultural Advancement Through Visual Art) which offered a much smaller rent than council officers estimated was required and has no links to the local community.
As part of the deal ACAVA was due to bear the costs of any planning application required. However the council has instead submitted a planning application to itself at a cost of to taxpayers of over £2,300, plus the officer time spent drawing up the application. Whereas the bid from Friends of Barham Library did not need any planning permission, ACAVA’s plan for artists’ studios involves a loss of community space and requires permission for a change to offices / light industrial use.
Councillor Paul Lorber, who has worked closely with Friends of Barham Park Library and represents Sudbury ward where Barham Park is located, said:
“The old library building could have been up and running by now as an exciting new community hub and library, if Labour councillors had supported the Friends of Barham Library in February. Instead local people have endured another seven months of delay and uncertainty while the historic building deteriorates further.
“To add insult to injury Labour is now forcing local taxpayers to pay the cost of applying for planning permission to get rid of community space in their own building.”
Councillor Alison Hopkins, who chairs the councils budget and finance scrutiny committee, said:
“It seems very odd that the council is using taxpayers’ money to pay for a planning application which will benefit an external organisation with no local links, especially when AVACA bid on the basis that it would bear the cost of gaining planning permission. I think local people deserve a full explanation.”
Labour’s plan to close and dispose of half Brent’s libraries has been beset by problems and irregularities. These include the recent controversy over false expressions of support for the Kensal Rise library planning application and an internal audit investigation into the Barham Park bidding process which identified many failings. At the time councillors were assured that improvements would be made and lessons learned.
The planning application can be seen on the council’s website at https://forms.brent.gov.uk/servlet/ep.ext?extId=101150&reference=112613&st=PL. At the time of writing the application had received nearly 20 objections and no expressions of support.
Note to editors
ACAVA and other organisations bid for the library building on the basis of the following conditions
- Applicants are responsible for obtaining all requisite consents, including planning permission.
- The assessment process will favour recreational uses.
- Internal repairing leases of up to 15 years can be offered with 5 yearly rent reviews.
- Trustees will be responsible for the external parts and costs will be recovered through a service charge.
- From acceptance of offer, applicants are expected to complete a lease in six weeks.
- A deposit equivalent to 3 months rent along with 3 months rent in advance is payable upon entering contract.
- We [Brent Council] are not obliged to accept the highest, or any proposal tender received, reserving the right to withdraw the property from letting at any time.
Conditions 1 and 5 have not been complied with. Furthermore renting out artists’ studios is not a “recreational use” (condition 2). The status of condition 6 (deposit) is unknown.
The full bidding document is available from the Liberal Democrat Group Office (020 8937 1181).