New leader of Brent Council rules out re-opening any of the closed library branches

Cllr Muhammed Butt said the controversial decision will not be reversed


The new leader of Brent Council had ruled out re-opening any of the axed libraries before attempts were made to clear out the branch in Kensal Rise yesterday (Wednesday).

In an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Cllr Muhammed Butt told the Times that the decision would not be reversed.

He said: “If you are asking me if I am going to open Kensal Rise Library or Preston Library, then the answer is no.

“We can’t go back on a decision. They have been taken by the Executive. The Executive has not changed much and the position cannot change.”

Yesterday at around 7.30am, Brent Council sent in workers to remove the contents inside Kensal Rise Library - an event that Cllr Butt told the Times he was unaware was happening.

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Within minutes campaigners gathered around the building thwarting the operation.

After calls for Cllr Butt to come down to the scene, he spoke to the campaigners on the phone and gave them a verbal promise that the contents would be left in the building for the rest of the day.

He said: “I am listening to the concerns and issues raised by the campaigners. I’m doing my best with a difficult situation. I have promised the campaigners I will be speaking to them. There has been a train of events which has taken place.”

Last month, Brent Council gave the building back to its owners All Soul’s College in Oxford after ignoring pleas from the community to allow them to run the library.

Cllr Butt said: “As far as I am aware the reverter has been triggered and the library technically belongs All Souls College. It’s not my gift to give the library over to the campaigners.”

The father-of-three who lives in Monks Park, Wembley, which is in the heart of his Tokyngton ward, who ousted the former leader, Ann John, on Saturday, following a secret ballot at the Labour group’s annual general meeting.

He won by 21 votes to 19.

Admitting he still has to be fully briefed on a number of issues affecting the borough, including the demolition of Willesden Green Library Centre, he said the future decision-making at the Labour-run council will be more open and transparent.

Asked if he regretted the decision to close half of the borough’s libraries, he said: “We were forced to make �42million of cuts by the government.

“We only had a year to make them. I’m sorry we closed libraries. I wish we had more funding or other ways of doing it but there was no other way.”

Cllr Butt – born at Central Middlesex Hospital and a former pupil of Oakington Manor Primary School, Alperton Community School and Kilburn Polytechnic – says he wants to do his best for the people of Brent.

He said: “To be the leader of Brent Council is an honour. I’ve grown up here and the people I care about live here. I want to deliver the best for everyone.

‘‘I came into politics to do better for people.”

When asked if he felt guilty going up against Ms John – whom he said “took me under her wing” when she made him her deputy leader in 2010 – he replied: “Ann has been a superb leader.

“She has led the Labour group since 2001 and steered the council through the worst economic downturn.

“But I feel that there are things that can be done differently and I wanted that opportunity.

“Ann John has been an inspiration. It has been an honour and a privilege to learn from her. I want to thank her for support and encouragement.”

What can Cllr Butt offer to the people of Brent with six years’ experience in politics compared with Ms John who has been a councillor for 22 years?

Mr Butt said: “It is time for a change. I want better relationships between front and backbenchers so everyone has an input in decisions.

“People think there are 10 members running the council but I want everyone elected to have their say.

“I want to make sure messages are communicated better and residents understand why we are making these decisions.

“This is about openness and transparency.”