Sunday, 11 September 2016

Preston Library Campaign builds ahead of Tuesday's Cabinet decision

Ahead of Tuesday's Cabinet Meeting, Roxanne Mashari, has written to Philip Bromberg in response to his letter LINK about the future of the former Preston library building (referred to in the Cabinet report at the Preston Park Annex LINK)
For the record, I have met with you and your group on a number of occasions and have found our conversations constructive which ultimately have led to the operation of the community library. 

I hope we can collectively find a solution to this as I think your community library is a fantastic example of community action to keep services running in the face of government cuts and I hope the council can support your hard work, passion and commitment as much as possible.

As I said previously, unfortunately property has been removed from the regeneration portfolio but I expect the leader will respond to you fully as soon as possible.
 Cllr Mathew Bradley has also responded to correspondents with the following generic reply:
As I have received a large number of emails about this, I've put together this standard response which I hope will answer all your questions.

Thank you for the numerous emails I received about the Preston Community library. As per your requests, we raised your concerns at the Labour group meeting to try and give a clear steer to the cabinet about what we, as Labour councillors (and specifically Preston ward councillors) wanted to see the building being used for - a community library. I think we made this clear in the meeting. The case for the library has been made well by all of you and I want to thank you all for writing in as the level of public support for the community library was made very clear and lent weight to what we had to say.

As an educator, I am firmly on your side in this matter, and I know my fellow councillors, Pat and Jean, feel the same way. We have been impressed at the service which has been provided by the Preston library community group (often in adverse conditions) and hope that this will continue into the future.

At the next meeting of cabinet, they will be deciding whether to enter negotiations with the business next door to see if this property can be purchased by the council in order to start re-development with a mind to building a structure on both sites. The ground floor of this will be reserved for community use, the upstairs area may become flats, or something else, but as far as I am aware the purpose for this has not been decided.

If the community library were to take up residence on the ground floor this would get the library a permanent home, and I believe would be an excellent solution to the many issues the library group has been facing when working with the council. While I can see positives and negatives to this, as a supporter of the library, I feel that this might be the best possible outcome.
Of course, if this happens, the next big fight would be ensuring that the ground floor of this building is indeed used for the library. The work on achieving this is far from over and I thank you all for continuing to support the community library as robustly as you have.

Cllr Matthew Bradley
Philip Bromberg replied:
First of all, I'd like to thank you and Jean (Cllr Hussein)  and Pat (Cllr Harrison) for the support we've had from you over the last two years. Some of the recipients of this email will be unaware that you have done valuable work for the library, and that you've offered to do more for us in the future. We are grateful for your help.

However, I'm afraid that what you say about next week's Cabinet is highly misleading. The report is not simply about negotiations with the business next door. There are two recommended proposals, and both involve the re-development of the library site. In both cases, the ground floor community space will be put out to open market tender, with a target rental income of £51,000 per annum. How, in these circumstances, will it be possible to ensure that there is a library on the ground floor?

Two years ago you and Pat and Jean and every other Labour councillor fought an election on a promise to offer the current building for use as a library at a peppercorn rent, and without an open tendering process. Is this promise about to be broken?

I hope you have read the attached letter from the Chair of SKPPRA, which casts considerable doubt on the wisdom of the current plans. Our strong preference is to continue to run the library in the existing building. This is what was promised in May 2014. But any re-development of the site must be done in a way which is consistent with those promises made two years ago. On Tuesday the Cabinet must say clearly that any community space must contain our community library, which must be offered to us for a peppercorn rent. That is what you now need to tell Mo and the other members of the Cabinet.

The decision about the library building is due to be made on Tuesday but both Brent Conservative groups have put it on the agenda for the following Full Council meeting on September 19th.

Cllr Reg Colwill  of Kenton conservatives has submitted this question to Cllr Michael Pavey, lead member for Stronger Communities:

The residents of the Preston Ward have done a fantastic job in keeping the library active and working to make sure that all the residents have access to books in a very professional manner.

Will the Council now honour what they told the residents that is that they would give them the library to continue their good work?
If yes, the Committee running the library would like to know when.
Brondesbury Park  Conservatives have submitted the following motion:
This Council confirms its previous promises and pledges of support for the continued existence of the four voluntary - run Brent libraries: Preston Community, Barham Park , Kensal Rise and Cricklewood.
A correspondent has submitted the following regarding the report's figures:

According to the Cabinet report:
5 flats built on the library site, will produce an income £158,000, less £51,000 from 'community' provision comes to £107,000, or £21,400 for each flat [£411.54per week].

19 flats on larger site, income £420,000, less £51,000 from community space comes to £369,000, or £19,421 per flat, which is £373.48 per week.

Council rents for a one bed are £102, 2beds are £116, and 3 beds are £128.

So Council tenants will not be able to afford the homes.  Housing Benefit does not seem to have been accounted for in the calculations.

So the income for the Council as indicated in the report seems inaccurate. It is cheaper to rent out a private flat in the area, so the proposals don't seem viable and won't meet housing need.


Philip Grant said...

I agree that this is an important issue, so have sent the following email message today (with copy to my ward councillors):-

'Dear Councillor Pavey,

I am writing to you in your role as Lead Member for Stronger Communities, about the report which Cabinet will consider on Tuesday concerning the proposed redevelopment of the former Preston Library building now used by Preston Community Library.

I would ask for your support in the discussions / vote on this matter at Cabinet, to ensure that the future of Preston Community Library at that location is secured, by a commitment that the community space in any new development there is offered to this local charity at a peppercorn (or otherwise affordable) rent, and not at a "market rent", as the Officer's report appears to suggest. The Officer concerned is new at Brent Council, and probably does not know the background to this matter as councillors, and the local community, do!

Libraries play an important part in building strong communities, providing a focus for reading and other beneficial activities, in an environment where people from all backgrounds can mix together comfortably.

In 2011, Brent's then Head of Libraries (who lived far from the borough) managed to persuade the Council to support her vision of "Fewer/Bigger/Better" libraries, against the wishes (expressed in a large consultation) of the vast majority of local residents, who saw the benefits of and need for local libraries across the borough.

Local voluntary community library groups fought to maintain a local library service in four of the six areas where Brent closed its own libraries. At first, the mistrust between the Council and the citizens who felt they had been betrayed by the so-called "Libraries Transformation Project" was very strong, but the local groups stuck to their task and showed that they had the determination and support within their communities to provide a worthwhile service.

Finally, from around 2013/14, under your colleague Roxanne Mashari, relationships started to improve, and matters started to move forward towards the Council and the local groups working together to provide this key service for Brent's communities.

If Cabinet simply accepts the Officer's recommendations over the Preston Library site on Tuesday evening, the trust which has been built up between the Council and its citizens since the disastrous 2011 libraries decision will be broken again (and I am not simply referring to a Labour Party 2014 election promise). A target rent of £51,000 for the proposed community space is not something which Preston Community Library, or any other local voluntary group, would be able to afford.

Cabinet has to realise that some things are worth more than just money, and that is particularly true in providing facilities which can be used to help build stronger communities. To illustrate this point, for around 25 years the Barn Hill Conservation Group has occupied the Council owned Roe Green Walled Garden for a peppercorn rent, but in return its diverse team of volunteers have turned the disused and overgrown Parks site into an award-winning beautiful place enjoyed by the local community (from young children, including local schools, to pensioners) and visitors from further afield, and used it as a base for valuable conservation work on Fryent Country Park.

I hope that you will take on board the points I have made, and use them to support Preston Community Library at the Cabinet meeting and beyond.'


Philip Grant said...

In her own response to Philip Bromberg's letter to Cllr. Butt, quoted above, Cllr. Roxanne Mashari says:
'... I expect the leader will respond to you fully as soon as possible.'

Based on my own experience of writing to Cllr. Butt on various issues since September 2014, I would not have any confidence that he would reply (fully, or as soon as possible), but if he does, I hope that the Chair of Preston Community Library will share that reply with Wembley Matters readers.

Thank you, Philip B., in anticipation (but not holding my breath!).

Philip G.