Monday, 28 May 2012

Kensal Rise campaigners leave meeting with new council leader empty handed

Kensal Rise Library campaigners emerged from their meeting with Cllr Muhammed Butt, new leaders of Brent Council and Ruth Moher, his deputy, pleased to have had a meeting but disappointed by the result.

Cllr Butt did not give any practical assurance to the campaigners but instead really just restated the John-Powney position.

He said that the ownership of the library had already reverted to All Souls College and the relevant deeds will soon be signed. Campaigners said they had indications that All Souls, even at this late stage, would be content to see the library remain in Brent's hands and be run by the campaign group. However, if it does revert it will be put on the market within weeks, probably at commercial rates.

Butt said he hoped that the council would be able to persuade All Souls to come to a compromise agreement with campaigners. However, they feel that with the current frosty relations an apparent attempt to shift responsibility from the Brent Council to the college will not be well received.  Campaigners said, "Brent seem to think they can give the building back to All Souls and then ask All Souls to let us have it, instead of just letting us have it themselves. All Souls have always said they would be happy if we reached agreement with Brent, so from where we are standing the problem at the moment is with Brent, not All Souls".

Cllr Butt said the council would be reluctant to freeze the transfer of ownership back to All Souls because it would go against their current policy of reducing the council's property portfolio. If that wasn't enough he then claimed that having a community library in a council building would undermine the whole Libraries Transformation Project to which he remains committed.  Kensal Rise campaigners said their proposal was for taking a long lease on the building with no expenditure commitment or administration burden on the council. If the community library failed the building could revert to All Souls anyway. The idea that the whole Libraries Transformation Project would be undermined by a small, volunteer run community library, in an area not otherwise served, was described as 'verging on the pathetic'.

Finally Muhammed Butt said that he couldn't promise the books currently in the library would not be removed as 'the council needs them' (despite removing book shelving from many of the remaining libraries) and All Souls' solicitors had asked for the building's contents to be cleared. Campaigners made it clear that books remaining was legally significant. If the building had no books it would make it harder to argue that the reverter clause had not been triggered. Campaigners offered to move their donated books in at the same time as the council moved their books out.

Refusing to give way on these and other issues Muhammed Butt said he would need to consult Brent's legal team and others to see if  the campaigns suggestions were viable and if he had any room for manoeuvre. He has not yet got back to the Kensal Rise community library campaigners.

They said:
Obviously, we are concerned about the extent of Cllr Butt's goodwill. He may hope to fob us off with bland reassurances while offering nothing concrete. He may also hope he can shift blame for the loss of the library onto All Souls if they refuse a meeting, or if they resist a compromise arrangement. Clearly his main concern is to take the political heat out of an issue that has caused the Council huge problems and a lot of bad publicity. 
Cllr Butt and other councillors may now regret how the library closures and community aspirations have been handled, and they are  obviously nervous about the pubic perception of the council and would like to change that, but if this new 'support' for us is simply a devious attempt to achieve 'good press' we will not be happy about being used in this way and this community will be very angry if this is the case.
So we do wonder if this is what the meeting with councillors was all about - damage limitation for the very bad public image that they have created for themselves and an attempt at co-opting us to help with its restoration, because, after all, we left that meeting empty handed.
The campaign will continue to keep on the pressure and will be vigilant at defending the building and preventing the removal of books.


Anonymous said...

It is quite laughable to suggest that Brent "need the books" the stock at Kensal was run down for years in anticipation of the closure that they have made no secret of.They got a tiny dribble of new stock when other libraries got boxes and boxes.
When the removal vans turn up those books are going for recycling! If you take Ealing Road as an example: recently refurbished and a lovely new interior but much diminished shelving space and mostly new stock from what I could see. Do they really think we are convinced that the books are to be redistributed? So all the shiny newly transformed libraries will have twice as much stock? I think not. We should be demanding to know where the old stock will go as it is doubly insulting to not only refuse a community library the use of the building but disposing of the old stock on the pretence that it will be needed somewhere else.
Brent Library Service has a contract with a recycling company. That's why you do not see book sales in any of the libraries any more and this company will take everything, the best they sell for profit and the rest is recycled. Ask the librarians! Oh but wait, I forgot, they are not allowed to talk about it.

The Local Don. said...

If ownership has already reverted back to All Souls College, what were contractors doing this morning stripping the library?

Brent Council can't sign deeds.

The Local Don.