Lambeth library campaigners today accused the council of mounting another “fake” consultation and called on respondents to mount a “write in” campaign to thwart it.
Edith Holtham, chair of the Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library (TSL) in Stockwell, said the exercise – launched on the day that a judge ruled the council’s Cressingham Gardens consultation unlawful – makes it “almost impossible” for residents to say what they want for the library.
She said the issue was whether Tate South or the Durning in Kennington remained a “town centre” library. The “loser” would become “a gym with a small range of books and a few computers, with no library staff at all on site. That is: Not a library”.
The questionnaire also asks: “What sort of revenue generating activities (i.e. activities you or local organisations would pay for) would you like to see taking place at Tate South Lambeth – alongside a free neighbourhood library service?”
Edith Holtham said the questionnaire did not ask the “fundamental” question: “Which of the two libraries do you think should be the town centre library?”.
Lambeth Council wanted the Durning Library to be the “winner” of a battle we do not want to fight, she said. “Neither library should be turned into a gym – and certainly not Tate South Lambeth.”
She asked why Lambeth was “in such a hurry” to allow only four weeks, running into the holiday period, for the consultation. “The ‘right’ result would enable Lambeth to shut down TSL straight after Christmas,” she said.
Both TSL and Durning campaigners met Jane Edbrooke, the council cabinet member responsible for libraries who will make the final decision after the consultation process, and council officers earlier this month and told them that the suggested questions were slanted.
Edith Holtham said their suggestions for fairer questions had been ignored.
She added that Stockwell Labour councillors had already promised, in a newssheet, “a new long-term future for TSL” – as a gym.
“They seem to know more about Lambeth’s real intentions than Lambeth council is prepared to admit,” she said.
Greenwich Leisure Limited, the social enterprise company that already runs Lambeth’s leisure centres, earlier this year proposed the creation of an “independent, not-for-profit” Lambeth Cultural Trust, starting with three trial sites, one of which was TSL, “where people will be able to access health and library services”.
Lambeth council leader Lib Peck told a full council meeting earlier this month that the council was unable to spend as much money on its smaller libraries as on its designated “town centre” ones.
“We have got to be honest about the fact that we cannot put so much money into our neighbourhood libraries. I regret that, but it is actually the truth, I am afraid,” she said.
Workers in all the council’s ten libraries staged an unofficial walk-out to coincide with the council meeting, saying they were already being asked to take books off shelves. They are also considering a ballot for official action over the job losses the council’s plans would involve.
The TSL/Durning questionnaire asks:
To what extent do you support or oppose the proposal that Durning Library will become the temporary town centre library?
To what extent do you support or oppose the proposal that Tate South Library will offer reduced library provision and wider range of wellbeing activities with a healthy living centre?
Friends of TSL is calling on respondents to “strongly oppose” both options and to write in instead: “This document does not give us the option of stating our strong preference for Tate South Lambeth Library as the town centre library for the north.”
The deadline for responses is 11pm on Monday 21 December.