Deputations - reference from Call in Overview and Scrutiny Committee: Willesden Green redevelopment
The Executive heard from members of the public speaking in support of the reference from the Call in Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 1 February 2012 which had resolved to ask the Executive to reconsider proposals for the interim service delivery strategy for the Willesden Green library development specifically to consider the use of some closed existing libraries to provide a comprehensive interim service.
Local residents put forward the use of Preston Library closed the previous year as part of the libraries transformation programme as in interim study area as it had good public transport links from the Willesden area and volunteer staff ready to help run the service. Ms Jacky Bunce-Linsell addressed the Executive stated that as Preston Community Library operated as a charity it would have reduced running costs. It also had a large stock of books that had recently been donated. Ms Bunce-Linsell drew members’ attention to correspondence she had sent to the Head of Libraries, copies of which had been circulated at the meeting, which suggested that many of the children attending the faith schools in Willesden lived within walking distance of Preston Library and that some establishments do not allow children from other boroughs to use their study spaces. Mr Mel Hacker stated that a key point in the council’s defence of the libraries closure was that other libraries would open on Sunday with longer hours however, this was be compromised with the closure of Willesden Green Library. Mr Hacker referred to reports that the council was expecting money back from investments in Icelandic Banks as a windfall opportunity.
Other members of the public expressed concerns over what they considered to be the lack of proper consultation on the proposals to date, the facilities within the new centre and the future of the Willesden Green Library Bookshop currently located in the library centre. Ms Gill Wood spoke in support of the Bookshop, a long established business she felt it deserved a place in the new development under similar terms as currently as the business would not be able to afford to pay rent at commercial rates. She questioned whether the existing manager had been consulted on plans for temporary relocation, and, in the light of reference in the report to the new centre being a safe space for entrepreneurs, whether a contract had been already signed. The new centre could result in the loss of the bookshop and the market, would not enhance the area and Ms Wood questioned whether residents wanted a cafe. Ms Wood also questioned the level of profit that would go to the developers. Mr Kevin McKillop referred to the on-line petition in support of the Bookshop which was expected to attain more than 1,000 signatures. Local residents were upset and angry and wanted their voices to be heard. Dr Salpadoru expressed concern at the lack of substantial information, questioned how the council had arrived at the existing plans, criteria for allocation of space and the likely profitable outcome for the developers. Mr Alejandro Colas regretted that local residents were only being given a few weeks to consider proposals and questioned whether proper consideration of all aspects of the proposed development could be completed by September 2012. Mr Colas felt that there was a need for substantive and quality consideration with the opportunity for design alteration should the outcome so require and he drew comparisons with extensive consultation that had been conducted over plans for the new Civic Centre.
Councillor Lorber (Leader of the Opposition) raised questions on the cost of repair of the existing library, the previous absence of reference to the value of the car park and the possibility of demolition, without consideration of alternatives. Questions he had raised with officers had yet to be answered. Councillor Lorber challenged the interim provision which he felt did not adequately consider local residents. He stated that previous discussions on the library transformation programme referred to the Willesden Green Library but failed the mention the possibility of temporary closure and felt that there was a danger that if closed for a long time, some people would be permanently lost to the library service. Councillor Lorber put forward the option of re-opening three of the libraries closed under the transformation programme as interim measures, which would cost less than the interim arrangements involving third parties currently being proposed, allowing the resultant savings to be invested in the new Willesden development. He felt the council was not being transparent and questioned at what stage would plans for former library building, such as Neasden, be revealed suggesting shared use to give library users a proper service.
Councillor John thanked speakers for their contributions and asked the Lead Member (Regeneration and Major Projects) to address specific concerns in his response.