Letters to Helen Hayes

4 May, 2017

Dear Helen,

Thank you for requesting via Twitter that we get in touch with you on email.

I will not rehash the entire sordid history of how Lambeth Council have forced through a deal with GLL and a gym in the Carnegie Library at Herne Hill, but I will summarize the key points relevant to what we are requesting of you.

– In multiple surveys (at least 4), in particular the one conducted by the Project Group in 2014 (results published Easter 2015), the option of having a gym in the basement was rejected by 86% of the respondents of the local community. The PopUp Carnegie consultation last summer showed that 90% of the respondents did not want this gym.
– Throughout the discussions in 2015 and 2016 around the alternative Staff & Community Mutual plan for Lambeth’s Libraries, we were told by Lambeth Council that all options were on the table and that the Mutual plan would be considered seriously & on its own merits.
– Even after the library was closed by Lambeth Council and even while those strange ‘exhibitions’ on the future of the Carnegie Library were being held (for half-days on work days, perhaps designed to be as inconvenient as possible for the community to attend and which mutated into ‘Consultations’ as soon as they ended) we were constantly being told that putting a GLL operated gym was only ‘one of the options’ on the table.
– Now, in spite of sustained objections from the community on the merits of the plan, Lambeth has passed what is effectively its own planning application and is going ahead with their plans with GLL, to construct a gym in the basement, with the amount of space devoted on the ground floor to the library mysteriously hard to pin down and with a library service that will be staffed by librarians for all of 2 hours a day.
– In those strange exhibitions Lambeth Council claimed “The agreement with GLL managing the costs of Carnegie and bringing in revenue, allows us to open the building for the community at the earliest opportunity while still making the savings required.” Yet now we are told GLL will not contribute anything to the maintenance or running costs or provide any revenue; what then does this agreement with GLL contribute if it does not reduce costs or augment revenues? And meanwhile Lambeth continues to incur costs for keeping the library closed, with the community deprived of this much-loved asset.

So far, so squalid. But now the emails that have come to light and which have been reported in Private Eye # 1442 (attached here as an image) show clearly that:
– Discussions between Lambeth Council and GLL were in progress about putting a gym in the Carnegie Library much earlier – in July 2015 – than the Council has admitted. The first time anyone in the community heard of this plan was on the 2nd October 2015 at a small meeting of Friends groups and it was buried in papers for the Cabinet on the 12th October. From this point on and even during the farcical ‘exhibitions’ last summer, Lambeth Council continued to maintain that a GLL-run gym was only one of the options for the Carnegie Library.
– It is now increasingly obvious that to all intents and purposes a deal had been struck between Lambeth Council & GLL over the Carnegie Library in spite of community opposition – all the ‘consultations’ can reasonably be considered to have been a sham.

– Furthermore, it is also a reasonable conclusion, given the dates and the tone and tenor of the discussions since July 2015 between GLL and Lambeth Council, that no serious consideration was paid to the community led plan to run Lambeth Libraries and that the exercise of considering it and disqualifying it was not conducted in good faith, with a level playing field. We would be happy to share with you details of how this process was skewed against the Mutual plan, which was rejected on grounds that the GLL plan was not asked to meet or demonstrated as having met. Since this business plan has never been shared with any of the Friends groups or the public, there is to date no evidence that the GLL plan was evaluated against the same criteria as the Mutual plan. The correspondence which has now come to light makes it clear that Lambeth never intended it to be a fair evaluation in the first place.

In addition, we have learned from reliable sources that candidates putting themselves forward for selection as Labour candidates for the 2018 local elections are being asked – as a criterion of selection – whether they have supported the Libraries campaign or signed any of the Library Campaign petitions in Lambeth, and not being selected if they have done either of these things. It is a sad and sorry state of affairs that candidates for local government are not being considered if they have supported the community! But that is by the by.

We in the local community would like to hear clearly and unambiguously from you if you are willing to stand with us and object to this plan, which is looking very much like a stitch-up between GLL and Lambeth Council, and which is being forced through in the face of consistent, principled local objection. In spite of the shabby, evasive and suspicious behaviour from Lambeth Council over this matter, we in the Herne Hill community have been persistently disappointed at your lack of tangible support. As we head for a general election where you presumably intend to reassure the community that you will represent our interests, we request you earnestly to consider this new evidence, reconsider your stance and unambiguously help us to block this proposal and to compel Lambeth Council to stop this plan. We look forward to a clear response from you.

Yours sincerely,

Suman Nambiar
(Member of the Friends of Carnegie Library)

 

Private Eye report

 

Dear Helen,

My apologies for adding to an already long email, but this evening it seems one of our neighbours has identified several growths of what could be Japanese Knotweed in the now unkempt and untended grounds of the Carnegie Library. If not attended to immediately, careless action by any of the crews who are sporadically engaged in clearing the Library could result in a major infestation of Japanese Knotweed in the neighbourhood. The inconvenience and considerable cost that we would then have to incur would be insult piled upon injury.

Yours sincerely,

Suman Nambiar

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11 May, 2017

Dear Mr Nambiar,

Thank you for contacting me about Carnegie Library and your concerns about knotweed in the vicinity. I have written to the Council to ask that the knotweed is dealt with as a matter of urgency.

As you know, the library closed just over a year ago. I share the priority of local residents that the Carnegie must open its doors again as soon as possible with a library at its heart and with the full range of community activities that we value so much.

The situation at Carnegie Library has arisen as a consequence of the intense pressure on Lambeth Council’s budget as a consequence of the current and previous coalition government’s cuts. I continue to challenge the government at every opportunity on its approach to local government funding. Across the country as a whole, almost 400 libraries have closed permanently over the past seven years. This is a completely unacceptable consequence of the approach that the government is taking and I have been meeting with CILIP, which represents professional librarians, and others to campaign for better funding for libraries so that they can continue to provide the multiple benefits which help to provide access to books and computers, address disadvantage and combat loneliness.

You will be aware from previous updates I have provided on Carnegie that I had strongly urged the Council to ensure that the library remained open with only the shortest of closures to allow absolutely essential works to take place to ensure the Carnegie’s future. As you will know, the Council has recently granted planning permission for works to be completed to the basement of Carnegie and is currently in the process of appointing a community organisation to take on the running of the building. I hope that this process will result in necessary works to the building beginning promptly so that the Carnegie library can reopen absolutely as soon as possible.

Quite rightly, there remains a very high level of interest in the future of Carnegie Library. My position on the key areas that local residents have been in touch with me about is as follows:

– Residents have contacted me with views on the Council’s proposal to convert the basement of Carnegie Library into a gym. I was absolutely opposed to any suggestion that a gym should be installed on the ground floor of Carnegie Library, as in my view this would have meant the building becoming something other than a library in its core use. There are, however, many examples of buildings which have a revenue-generating use in one part of a building in order to subsidise non-revenue generating uses in other parts of the building and this approach has worked well elsewhere. I have asked the Council for more detailed information on the contribution that the gym will make both to the capital costs of refurbishing the building and to the revenue costs of running it. I have also made representations to the Council on behalf of close neighbours of Carnegie who are concerned about the proposed opening hours of the gym and the possibility of noise disturbance as a result.

– Residents have contacted me about the arrangements for the library service in the re-opened Carnegie. The Council has made a commitment that the book stock and access to computers will be the same as the library contained previously, and that there will be library staff on site every day. I am clear that the library must be at the heart of the building and that there must be a fully-fledged staff team in place.

– Residents have contacted me about the plans for a community organisation to take on the running of the building. It is important that any organisation taking on this role must be representative of the local Herne Hill community, have the confidence of the Herne Hill community, and possess the broad range of skills and expertise required to take on the operation of the library. The Council is currently working through this process, but I will continue to press strongly to ensure that there will be an opportunity for the many many residents who love and care about Carnegie to get involved in shaping its future and the activities that take place inside it.

– Residents have contacted me about the future management of the Carnegie and the gym. I am clear that if the running of the library is to be transferred to a community organisation then they should take on the management of the building as soon as possible, with GLL only running the basement gym.

I have been in regular contact with the Council over the past year to raise the concerns that local residents have expressed to me about Carnegie, most recently writing to the Council just a couple of weeks ago. I have also asked the Council to respond to the Private Eye article, although there are clearly some significant factual inaccuracies in the article.

I will continue to raise residents’ concerns as they arise. The priority now is to see Carnegie library open again as soon as possible, and placed on a sustainable footing for the long term and that is the outcome I will continue to campaign hard to achieve.

With best wishes,

Helen

Sent on behalf of Helen Hayes
Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Dulwich and West Norwood

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18 May, 2017

Dear Ms Hayes,

Thank you for your response to my email.

I must express in the strongest possible terms my disappointment as well as that of various Friends and local residents with whom I have shared your response. It seems clearer than ever that your loyalties are firmly with your colleagues in Lambeth’s Council rather than local residents, who are after all your constituents.

Let me outline the reasons why we say so:
– You blame Lambeth Council’s closure of Carnegie Library on central government cuts. However, you do not address the fact that such savings could have been obtained, at least in large part, with the Staff Mutual option that Lambeth Council considered only on pain of legal action. You do not address the fact that Lambeth Council has now been comprehensively shown to have rigged this process in favour of GLL and their favoured option of a gym at the Carnegie Library, which had been in discussion with GLL long before Lambeth Council admitted it. You have also chosen not to address the fact that the GLL business plan (which has never been seen by any member of the public and was not in existence at the time that the Staff Mutual plan was rejected in its favour) was not evaluated on the same parameters as the Staff Mutual plan. You therefore do nothing to address our concerns that Lambeth Council has done exactly what they planned do regardless of the community’s strong objections to placing it in the hands of GLL.
– Furthermore, you do not address the fact that Lambeth’s own plan was only ever going to make half the revenue savings, involves substantial capital expenditure and will leave the Library shut for at least 2 years, possibly more.
– You say you have asked the Council for information on the contribution that the gym will make to the Library, for capital costs and for running it. We have been told categorically by the Council that it will make no contribution to the running costs and probably not to the maintenance of the building either. The implausible fiction that GLL will help defray the costs of running the Carnegie Library has long since fallen apart, yet you maintain a touching faith that Lambeth Council will suddenly do the right thing. Suffice it to say that none of us in the community share such a faith. How is having the GLL gym at all benefiting the Library or the groups and users of the Library? There has not been a single convincing answer to this.
– You say the Council have made a commitment that the book stock and access to the library and computers will be the same as before. Perhaps you would like to ask the Council why removals men have been spotted carrying cartons of books out of the library? I enclose a picture. Furthermore, the Council has not been saying this to us. Depending on the day, the month and who’s answering, we are told it will be ‘similar’ stock or variants on the same.
– You say you want the library to be at the heart of the building and there must be a fully-fledged staff team in place. Are you aware that even now, we have no commitments from Lambeth Council or GLL as to the floor space that will be dedicated to the library on the ground floor, in spite of countless questions on the subject? How then are you confident that it will offer the same stock of books and the same access to computers? Are you aware that the Council has committed to having trained librarians on site ‘up to’ only 2 hours a day? To suggest that GLL’s gym staff being present onsite constitutes having trained onsite library staff is to put an unnecessary strain on the English language and the already strained patience of the local community!
– You say you have made representations about our concerns regarding opening hours and noise – yet the planning application was passed without any of these concerns being addressed in any meaningful fashion. Can you please let us know if you are doing, or intend to do, anything substantial to address these concerns?
– You talk of a community organization running the Library. With no contribution from GLL towards the maintenance and running costs of the Library, with a garden that will be torn up and diminished in size and no commitments to the amount of space on the ground floor that is dedicated to the Library, what sort of asset will the community organization be taking over? This seems to be a final spiteful kick in the teeth from Lambeth Council to the local community, which it seems to hate with a vengeance.

It is with a sense of futility that we call upon you once again to publicly call Lambeth Council to account and ask them to:
– Fully share the details, with dates, of their complete correspondence with GLL regarding the Carnegie Library. Since GLL have a borough wide contract with Lambeth Council, there cannot possibly be any reasons relating to commercial confidentiality to keep this private.
– If it is established that Lambeth Council was discussing the option of a gym in the Carnegie Library well before it started discussions on the Staff Mutual plan, we call on you to ask Lambeth Council to pull the plug on the current arrangement with GLL and restore a fully funded library at the Carnegie Library, fully staffed by professional librarians.

If as you say you are indeed cognizant of the neighbourhood’s concerns and for the fate of the Carnegie Library, this is the least you can do. We wait for your response.

Thanks and best regards,

Suman Nambiar & other Friends of the Carnegie Library

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