Brent Liberal Democrats pledge to reopen closed libraries if they win council elections
PUBLISHED: 12:55 08 January 2014 | UPDATED: 12:56 08 January 2014
Election fever has arrived in the borough with the Brent Liberal Democrats pledging to reopen the library branches closed by the current council if they come into power.
The promise will be a key part of the party’s manifesto as it battles to takeover the town hall chambers on May 22 this year.
The current Labour administration closed Barham, Cricklewood, Preston, Neasden, Kensal Rise and Tokyngton libraries in 2011 to save £1million.
Cllr Paul Lorber, leader of the Brent Lib Dems, told the Times the cost of reopening five of the six branches would cost in the region of £400,000, which will be budgeted for if his party won the election.
He said: “We are not talking about a large amount of money. Brent residents have been massively let down by Labour’s attack on their libraries.
“This year’s election is local residents’ opportunity to choose between Labour’s library closures and the Liberal Democrats’ clear plan to bring back community libraries.”
The axe fell on all six branches despite 80 per cent of respondents to a public consultation being against the plans.
Critics of the proposals fought the closures vehemently with residents forming the Friends of Kensal Green Library, Cricklewood Library, Barham Library and Preston Library.
All four groups set up their own volunteer libraries and launched an unsuccessful bid at the High Court seeking a judicial review.
Despite the closures going ahead they have continued their campaign to have a community-run branch in their area.
Cllr Lorber, who is also a member of FoBL, said: “The last three years have shown that the libraries can be run by volunteers.
“If you look at what the volunteers are doing it’s phenomenal and all they need is a basic support, which is what we are proposing.
“We as local people are much better at organising events and activities and we need to take advantage of that as we want local libraries to be hubs of what is going on in the community.”
Following the closures, Brent Council sold the site of Tokyngton and returned Cricklewood and Kensal Rise buildings to All Soul’s College (ASC) in Oxford, who owned the site.
ACS has drawn up an agreement with the company who plans to develop both sites with a stipulation that it must include free community space.
However development plans for Kensal Rise library in Bathurst Gardens was rejected by the council and a planning application for the Cricklewood building in Olive Road was withdrawn at the 11th hour.
Cllr Paul Lorber told the Times he planned to work with campaigners and All Soul’s College to allow this to come to fruition.
He said: “ASC is committed to ensuring the developer provides community space so we could all work together to get something meaningful off the ground.”
Brent Council owns the Preston site, currently being used as an annex for a primary school and the Neasden building which is leased to a church.
Cllr Lorber said he would take over the Preston building after the school finishes with it in 18 months and would investigate reopening Neasden when its tenant’s lease ends.
He added: “Liberal Democrat councillors stood side by side with the local community to oppose Labour’s library closures.
“I don’t want to say the libraries will be ‘Brent Council libraries’: they will still be run by volunteers with council support.”
Campaigner Geraldine Cooke, who battled to save Preston Library, has welcomed the pledge.
She told the Times: “This is terrific news as the volunteer and community libraries show in other parts of London notably Camden are assets.
“They are centres of learning and knowledge and highly necessary as a resource for access to things such as computers so must be recognised and cherished.”