Monday, 21 May 2012

The Queen is dead! Long live the King!

Outside Brent Town Hall tonight
In fact Muhammad Butt's first Executive meeting as leader was a muted affair - no fanfares, cheers or even a 'well done, chum' from his colleagues. Instead a few mumbles about the order of business, a murmured exchange or two with Anne Reid, and we were away.

If there was any tension in the Executive after it was split by the leadership election it didn't show in any obvious way. Perhaps more councillors than usual arrived at the last minute to take their seats and there was little social interchange, but it was heads down and on with the agenda.

It was left to the public to inject a bit of life and passion into the proceedings and this they did through making representations on the Progress Report on the Library Transformation Project. All the contributors congratulated Muhammed Butt on his election win  and called on him to engage with the community.

Philip Bromberg for Brent SOS Libraries Campaign said the report reminded him of the saying 'the operation was a complete success but the patient died'. He had figures to show a huge drop in the number of visits and book issues at the remaining libraries and queried the escalation in the cost of the Kilburn Library refurbishment from £117,000 to £650.000.  He showed the audience and Executive a leaflet produced by Brent Labour Party asking people to 'Join Labour Campaign for Our Libraries' with a quote from Dan Jarvis shadow Culture Secretary. Bromberg reported that earlier in conversation Jarvis had express 'serious concern about what is happening in Brent over libraries'.

Martin Redston, speaking for the Keep Willesden Green Campaign urged Butt to be proactive, engage with the community and see the issue of the Willesden Green regeneration with fresh eyes. He pointed out that the only increased space int he new building would be for council offices and that the actual library would be smaller. English Heritage had recognised the community's valuing of the 'meaning of space' provided by the 1894 building. Redston pointed out the contradictions between the flowery words of the planning brief and the actual plan, which included a small door as an entrance to the new building, in contrast to the substantial entrance of the 1980s building. He urged Muhammed Butt and the Executive to 'stop, listen and reflect', because the majority of the local community did not want the scheme.

A speaker from Cricklewood Library spoke for how local nurseries and schools had been deprived of their library and older students of their study space.  She urged Muhammed Butt to restore good relations with the community by keeping the building open,

Cllr Paul Lorber said that the Executive had not been provided with proper financial information and said that the suggested 'savings' had not factored in the cost of rent and business rates for the closed buildings. He asked regarding Cricklewood and Kensal Rise's reversion to All Souls, 'Why give away buildings with £1.5m'. He claimed it was the Executive's responsibility to safeguard local assets. Speaking about the Barham pop-up library he said that most of the people who were using it were precisely those most affected by the closures: children brought along by their parents and mainly from an Asian of African Caribbean background.

A Conservative councillor urged that ward working money should instead be spent on keeping libraries open.

In response Cllr Powney said that most of the people who had spoken were just saying that they disagreed with the decision to close libraries that was taken last year. That decisions was to keep six 'excellent' libraries (one of which his Executive has since declared unfit for purpose and scheduled for demolition'  and develop those. He claimed that he had always said the the increase in the number of visitors and borrowers would not happen until 2014 when the refurbishments had finished and the new Wembley Library at the Civic Centre had been opened. He said, to heckling, that by 2014  the figures would be 'higher than now'. He confirmed that reversion of Cricklewood and Kensal Rise to All Souls had been completed, and that was the opinion of both council officers and All Souls.  In response to the questions about the increase in Kilburn refurbishment costs he said that the £117,000 had just been minor repairs and redecoration and the £650,000  was for a more extensive refurbishment.

At the end of the item, Muhammed Butt said he was meeting with Kensal Rise campaigners tomorrow and promised to meet with the Preston and Keep Willesden Green campaigns.

All other items on the agenda, including the Air Quality Action Plan, Animals at Events policy, and the provision of a Brent Carers' Hub were approved without discussion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

can someone get something in black and white from All Souls to confirm that what Powney is saying is a pack of lies?