Do GLL even have a plan for Carnegie Library?

When Lambeth closed our library, in April, they handed it over to GLL to develop. Despite promises from Councillor Jim Dickson that "any time required for the closure of the library for improvements\changes to the building will be kept to a minimum", the building is now sitting idle. Even though it costs Lambeth more to keep it closed than to have it open.

If, like me, you want to know how Lambeth justifies this, you could try asking one of our councillors.

Jim Dickson's email is: Jdickson@lambeth.gov.uk

I wrote too, to Mark Sesnan, chief executive of GLL, to ask whether they actually have a plan, and whether they will commit to local consultation. Despite several letters, I've received just a few short emails in response. He seems unable or unwilling to answer my questions. Maybe, since his company - of whom many of us are customers one way or another (for example if you ever visit a "Better" leisure centre) - has taken possession of our community building, you might want to join me in writing to him. You could ask him why he won't confirm what the plans are, and why he won't commit to local consultation.

Mark Sesnan's email is: Mark.Sesnan@gll.org

Here is a copy of my correspondence with Mark:

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11th April 2016

Dear Mr Sesnan,

As you will no doubt be aware, Lambeth residents have been protesting against the council's badly conceived plans to turn our local libraries in to "Healthy Living Centres". The fact that local people were willing to spend a week occupying the library in protest and that 2,000 people marched on Saturday (9th April), demonstrates the depth of local commitment to our libraries and opposition to Lambeth's handling of them and treatment of its own residents.

There has been quite a bit of recent communication from Lambeth Council which local people know to be at the very least misleading. Part of this is the council's claim to have conducted local consultation. I live almost directly opposite Carnegie Library, but was unaware of any consultation process until after it had been completed. What I do know now is this:

• In April 2015, Lambeth Council published the results of a consultation entitled "Cultural Services by 2020". This consultation proposed to decommission Waterloo and Minet libraries, using the proceeds to endow a "Lambeth Community Library Fund" which would replace council funding for Carnegie, Durning and Upper Norwood Libraries. It also suggested transferring control of the libraries to independent trusts. It further promised that if no suitable trust(s) came forward by 2016, the council would "consult local communities on the options before making a final decision on the next steps". There was no mention of GLL or gyms. Lambeth Council conducted no further consultation that I am aware of, prior to passing a resolution to hand the libraries to GLL, and then closing them.

• The Carnegie Community Trust published the results of a consultation in March 2015, which did at least mention the idea of a gym. However, out of 15,000 people in Herne Hill, it had only 187 respondents to its questionnaire, who were not even a demographically representative sample of the local population (84% of respondents were white; 85% were aged 25-64). What the consultation did show, though, was that a gym was one of the least popular of the proposed options, rejected by 77% of responses. The only option which was less popular was to convert more of the building into residential accommodation.

I do not believe Lambeth Council's plans and actions meet their statutory obligations, so I was pleased to hear that the Department for Culture Media and Sport is now formally investigating whether the council is in breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

The failure to consult local people, along with the decision to close the libraries without any clear development plan in place, is at the heart of local people's concerns. Since GLL is involved as Lambeth's proposed provider for the building when it reopens, I would appreciate it if you were able to provide us with some information.

1) Do detailed and specific plans (including layouts for the redeveloped buildings, a timetable for the works being undertaken, a reopening date, details of the future staffing of the libraries) exist? If so, can we be given sight of them?

2) If these plans do not yet exist, can you provide an understanding of how soon they will be in place, and the consultation process you intend with the local community in developing them?

There have been frankly derogatory comments from a couple of councillors questioning the significance of the local community's protest against what the council has done. I believe the events of the last week make the depth of local concern unarguable. I'm sure GLL wishes to provide local services to the satisfaction of local residents, not find itself thrust into the middle of a dispute caused by Lambeth Council's incompetence and intransigence. Being involved in the current situation can do nothing but harm to your reputation and you risk being the custodians of facilities which are unwanted and rejected by the very people who are the intended users.

3) Will you make an undertaking to us that GLL will not proceed on any plans without seeking clear consent from the local community?

I look forward to your urgent response

Alex

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18th April 2016

Dear Mr Sesnan,

I wrote to you a week ago concerning GLL's involvement with Lambeth Libraries. I am disappointed to have had no response to the questions I asked. The issue of libraries is made quite urgent for the local community, now that Lambeth has closed them without a definitive plan or timetable for their reopening being presented to the local community.

Our primary concern is to be sure that adequate library provision will be made, but it is hard to ascertain whether it will be, since we don't know the actual plans, and we have never been properly consulted about the service we want. Therefore, I'd appreciate your answer to the three questions I asked last week.

1) Do detailed and specific plans (including layouts for the redeveloped buildings, a timetable for the works being undertaken, a reopening date, details of the future staffing of the libraries) exist? If so, can we be given sight of them?

2) If these plans do not yet exist, can you provide an understanding of how soon they will be in place, and the consultation process you intend with the local community in developing them?

3) Will you make an undertaking to us that GLL will not proceed on any plans without seeking clear consent from the local community?

I look forward to your urgent response.

Alex

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On 19/04/2016 08:48, Mark Sesnan wrote:

Alex

Basically, I am quite happy to respond to your questions - the problem has been that I was responding openly and politely to a number of residents queries as they came in, but unfortunately two of the replies I gave were deliberately distorted and used to then be part of a rude and vitriolic campaign against GLL individuals. I thus have no desire to further encourage this uncivil behaviour.

I will send you a fuller response when I am back in the UK but the short answer is, yes, of course there is a plan for both Minet and Carnegie that will see the libraries refurbished and reopened alongside community studios and health and fitness facilities all open 7 days a week. As far as I am aware, these objectives have been in the public domain for some time now.

The detailed plans for Carnegie were not able to be finalised until we knew the practicality of bringing the basement areas into use. This now looks hopeful and will thus enable a much wider range of community activities to take place in the building going forward - which is of course good news. I accept there is a need for better communication and community engagement on these projects and we will try to address this.

Best wishes

Mark

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On 19/04/2016 11:23, Alex Bicknell wrote:

Mark

Thank you. I will look forward to your full reply, as you've only partly addressed the questions.

I had seen a couple of other strands of communication flying back and forth. I have no intention of being vitriolic or distorting anyone's position, and I'm not going to defend other people doing so. By way of observation, all I can comment is that emotions are quite high now, and the lack of communication has been a part of the cause of that, as well as the decision to close the libraries without full plans having been shared with the community. Some of my neighbours found themselves spending a week sleeping on the library floor as the only way to try and get their voices heard.

I became aware of the council's plan to hand the library to GLL on 5th October, to be precise, and the council met and decided on the proposals exactly a week later, on 12th October. There was no consultation about it. There was a lot of local opposition, in the short period of time. Did the council share with you the hundreds of letters they received from local children that week?

The decision to shut the libraries at the end of March only emerged even more recently. On 13th October I had been assured that the council had decided that "any time required for the closure of the library for improvements\changes to the building will be kept to a minimum", which is patently not the case, since the libraries are shut now, and work has not begun.

I am told by one of the councillors that there will be an "exhibition" soon of the plans - but that implies it will still not involve any consultation with the community, which troubles me considerably.

My concern is very simply to see a proper library service (though yes I would also love to see "a much wider range of community activities" there too). Without having seen any of the details of plans, I'm worried that what is proposed is not a proper library service. I'm also worried about how long the libraries remain closed. (Right now my kids have no access to a library, and the community activities that were already operating there have been made homeless while the gates are shut.)

I look forward to your fuller response to my questions, and thank you for taking the time to reply to me.

yours

Alex

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On 28/04/2016 09:48, Alex Bicknell wrote:

Mark

I see Lambeth have today published a proposed floor plan for the Carnegie. Is this a definitive plan now? If so, are you in the process of submitting a planning application for it?

I'm a little surprised I still haven't had a clear response to my original 3 questions to you, from more than 2 weeks ago. I hope to get one very soon.

Alex

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On 04/05/2016 11:05, Alex Bicknell wrote:

Mark

I'm amazed I still haven't heard from GLL. More than 3 weeks with no response to some fairly straightforward questions. I promised not to distort your position, so please let me know if you'd prefer me to say that GLL "can't" or "won't" answer the questions?

Alex

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On 04/05/2016 11:31, Mark Sesnan wrote:

Alex

Sorry for the silence. I have been receiving your requests.

I am not really in a position yet to give clear definitive answers to your questions as the position is continually changing particularly with regards to the proposed building layouts.

The plans will of course be available for public comment, including through the planning application process.

Once there is a definitive position, I will let you know.

Mark

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10th May 2016

Dear Mark,

Thanks for your short note, though it reads very differently from what you wrote on 19th April, when you told me "I will send you a fuller response when I am back in the UK but the short answer is, yes, of course there is a plan". I do now feel a little like I was being fobbed off with that.

Indirectly, I think you've answered my first question and part of the second.

1) Do detailed and specific plans (including layouts for the redeveloped buildings, a timetable for the works being undertaken, a reopening date, details of the future staffing of the libraries) exist? If so, can we be given sight of them?

The answer here is a clear no. There are layouts, but they are "continually changing". There is no confirmed timetable for the promised "exhibition" and you aren't even ready to submit the planning application. There is no scheduled reopening date except a glib promise of "early 2017", which seems frankly implausible. There is no specification on library staffing. Most recently the council sent us a letter saying that library staff will be on site "regularly". Presumably, the intent is that readers fail to distinguish between 'regularly' and 'frequently'. Correct me if I'm wrong on any of this.

2) If these plans do not yet exist, can you provide an understanding of how soon they will be in place, and the consultation process you intend with the local community in developing them?

This seems to be a no too. You seem unwilling to share the project planning with us. And there's no offer to consult. You mention "comment, including through the planning application process", which is not really an answer. A 'comment' is not consultation, and responses to planning applications must, if I understand the process, be 'material' if they are to be considered. That provides no context to discuss the issues local people want to be consulted about: the proportion of use of the building; the presence of librarians; the length of time the library is unnecessarily closed; the scope of provision for local community groups and so on.

It is disappointing, and I repeat my concerns to you from the beginning of our correspondence. GLL is becoming entangled in a dispute caused by Lambeth Council's incompetence and intransigence, which can do nothing but harm to your reputation. You risk being the custodians of facilities which are unwanted and rejected by the very people who are the intended users - and neither a planning application, nor an 'exhibition' will serve to change that. People have not forgotten, just because the building is shut now.

Every day people tie ribbons on the Carnegie library railings to show they still care about this issue (even if Lambeth Council seems to think it an acceptable use of our money to pay someone to periodically remove the ribbons). You should come and see it. You should come and speak to local people, and then you'd appreciate the depth of feeling.

So, I'm asking you my final question again. It is answerable, regardless of the current state of plans.

3) Will you make an undertaking to us that GLL will not proceed on any plans without seeking clear consent from the local community?

It's a yes or no. You can say "yes", and we can begin a process of mapping out the future of Carnegie and Minet together; making sure the buildings are open as long as possible; closing the doors only when building work compels it; and ensuring that librarians are on site both regularly and frequently.

Or you could say "no", indicating that GLL doesn't think it needs our consent on the redevelopment of our libraries; that it doesn't matter if the buildings sit idle indefinitely; that our demand for librarians in our libraries is unimportant to you. At least then we'd know where we stood.

I look forward to your answer.

Yours

Alex