Lambeth Council, which last month lost a case in the High Court over its handling of a public con-consultation on housing, is to face another Judicial Review, this time over its “omnishambles” handling of its libraries con-consultation which has threatened the future of half its public libraries including that of Upper Norwood Library, which has been run jointly with Croydon for more than a century.
The previous case, fought over Lambeth’s plans to evict council tenants from Cressingham Gardens and redevelop the homes, saw the council’s bungled consultation ruled by the judge as unlawful. It is Lambeth “co-operative” council’s mishandling of the consultation process over libraries that is a major plank in this latest High Court challenge.
“The libraries Judicial Review should be a wake up call to Lambeth Council and, by extension, Croydon,” Robert Gibson, of the Save Upper Norwood Library Campaign, told Inside Croydon today. “Imposition of officer-led omnishambles diktats against massive community opposition will be fought by every means communities can mobilise.”
Under Lambeth’s most recent proposals, half its public libraries – including Upper Norwood – face the withdrawal of full-time library staff or closure. Some libraries could be handed over to private leisure operators, to be turned into bookish gyms.
The Judicial Review is being brought by the Friends of Lambeth Libraries, who are critical of a paper called “Culture 2020”, in which Lambeth launched into a public consultation in January with what the campaigners described as “a confusing and slanted consultation process”.
After those proposals went out for consultation, later in the year, Lambeth then delivered, as a fait accompli, its bookish gyms and closure plans which, the campaigners say, “were rushed through in just 10 days – with no consultation at all”.
In a statement this afternoon, the Friends of Lambeth Libraries said: “Residents all over the borough are strongly opposed. They have signed petitions in their thousands and marched in their hundreds in the rain. This self-styled ‘co-operative council’ is shown to be nothing of the kind.”
The case is being brought by Public Interest Lawyers on behalf of a Lambeth resident who depends on Carnegie Library – one of three libraries condemned to be replaced by a fee-charging gym. It would have a small collection of books and PCs – but no library staff to help people.The campaigners believe that the false consultation, the failure to deliver its statutory library service to a range of vulnerable people who depend on their libraries, and Lambeth’s refusal to consider a viable bid from library managers to run all 10 public libraries, fully staffed, within the financial constraints set by the council, make a compelling legal case.
Friends of Lambeth Libraries said: “We are being forced to go to law because Lambeth refuses to listen. We have gone through all its democratic processes, and been faced with the same blank wall every time. It is still open to Lambeth to re-think, and accept an alternative that residents support. We very much hope it will do so.
“There is time, as its own plan is barely worked out – and many serious questions remain unanswered.”
Labour-run Croydon Council has yet to publicly respond to the proposals from Lambeth insofar as they affect Upper Norwood, where the library effectively serves residents in five south London boroughs. But if Lambeth, which is also notionally under Labour control, pulls its funding for the library, Croydon’s “half share” is unlikely to be enough to pay to keep the facility open, even on its partial opening times that operate now.
A suggestion from Lambeth that Upper Norwood could be run entirely by volunteers, through a trust, is regarded as unacceptable by campaigners.
Gibson said, “The Upper Norwood Library Trust has never been envisaged to be a fig leaf to reduce the provision of service and remove professional staff.
“The community of Crystal Palace will step up to the plate, take on responsibilities and raise money. But both councils need to also work with each other and the community to ensure Crystal Palace is treated with equity and that a town centre library is maintained as an important social and economic anchor to our high street.
“There is a clear and viable alternative to deliver saving on the table and a willingness to work together with the councils to deliver across Lambeth and at Upper Norwood a professionally staffed, statutory provision of service.”
And keeping a public library open would surely give those depending on benefits somewhere else to go other than the local bookmakers, which is where they spend most of their time and money, according to Alisa Flemming, a Labour council cabinet member and Croydon councillor for Upper Norwood ward.
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