Monday 18 July 2011

Brent Libraries : a demolition job

The Save Preston Library Campaign has issued the following ahead of Tuesday's Court Case

Brent Council’s executive is to meet tonight to vote on disposals of half of its library properties AHEAD of a High Court hearing to decide whether its library closures are lawful.

In the first legal challenge against library closures in the country, Brent library users’ case against the council will be heard in the High Court on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But in an extraordinary show of contempt for due legal process, the council intends to press on with the sales – and will vote on disposals on Monday night, the eve of the High Court hearing.

John Halford of Bindmans LLP, Helen Mountfield QC, Gerry Facenna and Edward Craven will argue that the council adopted a fundamentally flawed and unlawful, approach to the objective of making savings because it:
  • STARTED from the false premise that library closures were an inevitability, closing its mind to reasonable alternatives
  • FAILED to assess local need
  • FAILED to comply with equality legislation, and its own impact assessment policies
  • FAILED to disclose its criteria, and reasons, for rejecting alternative community-based means of retaining some or all of the libraries earmarked for closure.
This is a landmark case for library closures, and will define the view taken by the courts in the many legal actions that are waiting to go ahead up and down the country.  Cases from Gloucestershire and the Isle of Wight will be heard by the end of the year.

John Halford argues that the decision will have “serious, irreversible consequences” for those who rely on the six libraries.
“Given the importance of the decision for local people, the council was obliged to explore all the options carefully and make sure that it had accurate evidence about the likely impact of the decision, in particular on disadvantaged groups. If the council had approached the matter with an open mind and avoided the errors above, the outcome of the decision-making process could have been radically different.”
On the same day that Rupert Murdoch is grilled by the media select committee, this libraries hearing could heap further embarrassment on Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, who has so far refused to intervene under the Museums and Libraries Act 1964, despite hundreds of complaints from residents and letters from Brent North MP Barry Gardiner.

This case exposes fundamental failings at Brent, which claims it needs to save £1m over two years from the libraries service, but continues to spend millions on trophy projects such as the new £100m Civic Centre at Wembley Stadium with its £3m mega-library.

Council leader Ann John has boasted of council investment in a £4m boulevard that will be created to lead visitors from Wembley Park Tube station to Wembley Stadium.

And at the same time Brent Council is spending between £1.2m and £1.5m PER MONTH on “consultants fees”.

Preston campaigners are acutely aware that the closure and sale of their library is not driven by efficiency, as Brent Council claims, but the need to push users to the new Civic Centre library (to create demand where none exists) and to increase capital receipts to pay for the project.

The outcome of the case could mean the council halting the closure programme and restarting the decision-making process.

No comments: