Agenda item

Opposition Business: Library Service Provision in Enfield Highway

An issues paper prepared by the Opposition Group is attached for consideration of Council.


The Council rules relating to Opposition Business are also attached for information.   


Councillor Laban introduced the issues paper, prepared by the Opposition Group.


1.               Issues highlighted by Councillor Laban were as follows: 


·       That the Enfield Highway Carnegie Library, built in 1909, was one of the few old buildings in Eastern Enfield.  It was the Opposition’s view that it should be preserved and should continue to be used as a library.


·       That answers were needed as to why the proposals involving the Sexual Health Clinic had not worked out and what could be done to find another partner which would enable the library to continue as a library.


·       Why it had happened that both Edmonton Green and Enfield Highway libraries had been put under refurbishment at the same time, in one of the most deprived parts of the borough.


·       Why the library had been closed, stripped of fixtures and fittings and the books put into storage so prematurely and why the books could not have been made available to other libraries.


·       Concern at the lack of communication with the public about the library closure. 


·       The view that first floor office accommodation in a nearby business centre was not an appropriate library replacement. 


·       That for a similar cost to that of providing the inadequate temporary library - a bus with two computers and a shelf of best sellers - the original library could have been kept open. 


·       Concern that the Council had only managed to recruit 50 of the required 200 volunteers to help run the libraries.


·       That the public deserved an apology from the Cabinet member for the way that this matter had been handled.


2.               Councillor Orhan, Cabinet Member for Education, Children’s Services and Protection, responded on behalf of the Majority Group highlighting:


·       That it had been a clear manifesto commitment to keep the boroughs’ libraries open and this had been adhered to.  Councillor Orhan was proud of the library offer and proud that Enfield had the highest number of libraries in London.  All in the context of huge reductions in Government grants and a 48% reduction in revenue.


·       The new proposals for Enfield Highway Library were in her view the best option.  The library would be in a new improved location, it was a large airy open space fit for the 21st Century, accessible and modern.  A cost effective way of delivering on the library strategy enabling the Council to retain a much used facility.  With excellent internet connectivity, public access to council services and including a specialist resource for local businesses and new start-ups. 


·       Councillor Orhan invited members to visit the new building.


·       A temporary mobile library had been provided during the closure to give residents access to library services.  Residents were also able to visit the borough’s other libraries.


·       Plans for the old library building included options for community use. 


3.               Other issues highlighted during the debate were as follows: 


a.               The need highlighted by the members of the Opposition Group:


·       To acknowledge the concern about the failure of the Cabinet members involved to ensure that projects were run in a timely and cost effective manner.


·       To conserve the listed façade of the old library, a local landmark, which had been built, using donations from Andrew Carnegie, who had intended it to be used to give poorer communities access to books and to improve social mobility. 


·       To recognise that Enfield Highway had been a well-used local library - among the top 10 in the borough.


·       To acknowledge the concern to know about the reasons as to why the library was closed, before alternative uses could be found.


·       To have a response to the questions raised about the processes that had led to the collapse of the previous proposals, and the need to investigate what had led to the current situation. 


·       To support the view that the library should not be sold for housing. 


·       To accept concern about the significant funds that had been spent on the failed project. 


b.               The need highlighted by members of the Majority Group:


·       To acknowledge that the new library was being re-provided in a location just across the road from the old library, unlike Weir Hall Library, which had had to be re-located over 3 miles away in a different area. 


·       To recognise that the Labour administration had been able to preserve all the borough’s libraries, despite huge Government cuts, and carry out major improvements to them: including the refurbishment of the flagship Edmonton Green Library.


·       To accept that discussions were continuing about how the façade of the old building could be preserved and with local GPs and the local health authorities about the possibility of creating a new community health centre in the old building.


·       Support for the new sexual health centre, a world class facility, which everyone should use and which was being provided in the place where it was most needed. 


4.               At the end of the debate Councillor Laban summed up on behalf of the Opposition Group as follows: 


Councillor Laban felt that the administration owed the people of Enfield Highway an apology and an open and honest explanation as to what had gone wrong; to know what had led to the library being closed prematurely and to the inadequate temporary arrangements.  The Opposition wanted the Carnegie library to remain open as a library, the use for which it was intended


5.               Councillor Taylor then summed up on behalf of the majority group:


Councillor Taylor said that he felt that the reasons for the delay had been explained during the debate, but would happily consider all options for future use of the building.  He thought that this should be acceptable to the Opposition as it related to recommendation one in the Opposition Priority Business Paper.  The administration did want to retain the building for public use, but not necessarily as a library, which might not be the most appropriate use for the future.  


He would ensure that the community would be consulted on the future use and that residents would have a say in the future of the building. 


Councillor Laban thanked Councillor Taylor for his response. 

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