Political rivals clash over the cost of reopening axed libraries in Brent

Cllr Muhammed Butt, left, and Cllr Paul Lorber

Cllr Muhammed Butt, left, and Cllr Paul Lorber - Credit: Archant

As the council elections loom a political row has broken out over the cost of reopening six closed library branches in the borough.

Preston Library campaigners fought the closure of their branch

Preston Library campaigners fought the closure of their branch - Credit: Archant

In 2011, the Labour-run administration axed Cricklewood, Barham, Kensal Rise, Preston, Tokyngton and Neasden libraries claiming it would save the town hall £1million a year.

Younger members of the community came out in force to save Kensal Rise Library

Younger members of the community came out in force to save Kensal Rise Library - Credit: Archant

According to the Liberal Democrats the cost of reopening the branches would cost around £500,000.

However the Labour Party have accused the Lib Dems of misleading residents claiming the figure is £6million based on data from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

The costs are anticipated to spiral into millions, according to Labour, because of additional expenses, which includes buying back Kensal Rise and Cricklewood libraries and the refurbishment of the existing sites, the party claims.

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Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, said: “This new research conclusively demonstrates that, just like the Liberal Democrats’ broken promises to scrap tuition fees, their claims about our libraries are utterly realistic and deeply irresponsible.”

Adding that the closures were a result of government cuts by the Lib Dem/Conservative coalition, he said: “Local people are well aware that the Lib Dems will say anything to get elected, but their hypocrisy on this issue really is staggering.”

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But a Lib spokesman said Kensal Rise and Cricklewood libraries was never a part of their plan, and will instead use the community space which is likely to be conditional to any future redevelopment to run the reading rooms.

He added: “These are bogus figures. They show Labour is running scared and hasn’t read or understood our proposals to bring back Brent’s much-missed community libraries.

“We know Labour are experts at how to waste money: their out of control estimates about the cost of running re-opened libraries just go to show why Labour councillors can’t be trusted to spend local taxpayers’ money.”

The decision to close six of the 12 branches in the borough was vehemently fought against by campaigners who took the case to the High Court and lost.

The Kensal Rise and Cricklewood sites were given back to their owners All Souls College in Oxford, who have sold them to a property developer.

Tokyngton has been sold to the Islamic Cultural Association, Neasden has been leased to a church, Preston is currently being used as school classrooms until September next year and Barham currently lies empty.

A proposal to convert it into an art gallery was rejected by the council last November.

The council elections will take place on May 22.

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