Libraries, pool and Arena may not open because of cash crisis

CROYDON IN CRISIS: More embarrassment for Tony Newman as Croydon-owned sports centre in his ward remains closed, while fears have been revived that the Labour-run council could flog off some libraries for housing

Several of the borough’s public libraries and sports and leisure facilities, such as Purley Pool and Croydon Arena, which were all closed because of the coronavirus lockdown in March, may now not reopen because of the council’s cash crisis.

Shirley Library is one of the branches which remain closed, and some fear could be flogged off

That was the stark warning issued by Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance, speaking at a virtual meeting of a handful Labour councillors earlier this week.

The council has £1.5billion debts and since March has a £62million-sized covid-shaped hole in its budget. Emergency financial measures, including 20 per cent cuts in spending and hundreds of job cuts, are expected to be discussed at a council cabinet meeting on Monday.

Hall’s admission at the private meeting to discuss council policy was not even mentioned last night when the Town Hall Labour group held its first meeting since July. The information has certainly not been shared publicly. Until now.

It confirms the worst fears of some of the borough’s biggest sports clubs, and could yet cause considerable embarrassment to council leader Tony Newman: Croydon Arena, the home of the local athletics club and non-league football side Croydon FC, sits in the Woodside ward which he is supposed to represent.

Purley Pool: no explanation why GLL has not reopened

It has been suggested by one Labour councillor that it could cost £200,000 to reopen the Arena – which sounds a lot, until you consider it is less than half what was paid in a “golden handshake” to departing council CEO Jo Negrini.

The Arena is operated under contract for the council by GLL. Although other leisure centres, at New Addington, Waddon, Thornton Heath and South Norwood, started operating again in July and have all since reopened their swimming pools, there has been no announcement of any plans for Croydon Arena, Purley Pool or Monks Hill Leisure Centre.

The 1970s-built Purley Pool has long seemed to be a money pit, with the site, adjoining a multi-storey car park and disused Sainsbury’s supermarket, eyed by profit-hungry housing developers. The “Save Purley Pool” campaign has been revived with an online petition started.

The operational funding of the borough’s leisure centres is supposed to be the responsibility of GLL under a cross-subsidy model where the better-used centres, such as New Addington, help pay the bills at the others.

No one at the council has offered any explanation why GLL is not being kept to its contract at the three closed centres.

The management of the borough’s 13 public libraries have been back under the council’s direct control since 2018, following the collapse of out-sourcing giant Carillion.

Norbury: another library seen to have potential for housing

The council’s covid-19 cashflow crunch, therefore, may well explain the continued closure of eight of the libraries, and may also prompt fears that the Labour-run council might yet break a promise not to flog off the sites to housing developers.

That was a promise only given after the council was exposed as having hired expensive consultants to deliver a report which recommended doing exactly that at four libraries: Norbury, Shirley, Purley and Coulsdon.

Those four are among the eight public libraries which remain with their doors firmly locked, their bookshelves and public access computers gathering dust. The other closed libraries are South Norwood, Broad Green, Sanderstead and Bradmore Green.

Given the wide-ranging nature of the council’s programme of job cuts, it seems inevitable that some library staff may be among those made redundant.

Since the reopening of five libraries in July, the council has remained silent on the status of the rest of its library estate.

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12 Responses to Libraries, pool and Arena may not open because of cash crisis

  1. Charles Burling says:

    I’m thinking completely outside the box here and it will be heretical in some circles, so indulge or humour me: If you were starting from scratch, what would or should a local authority provide? Probably a lot more than they currently do in terms of built environment, licencing and enforcement, social services, lifelong learning and loads of other things that can go into the pot. But in the age of almost universal adult literacy and the internet, would they lend people books and build and maintain buildings for that purpose? A 19th century solution to a problem that doesn’t exist in the 21st? Buy your own ‘effing books!

    • That sort of concept was floated by a Conservative councillor not so long ago, when she suggested giving residents book tokens instead of libraries, and completely misunderstanding, or never knowing, the role that many public libraries play in their communities in the 21st century.

      Suffice to say, she is no longer a councillor.

      • Charles Burling says:

        I’d give ’em nothing. Now, as for the role that the physical buildings play, that is a different matter. There is a very good case for community hubs, it’s just that they wouldn’t lend out books paid for by the public and be staffed by council contractors. And some of those buildings are unsuitable as lending libraries, let alone something really useful.

        • You, like “Book Token” Bashford, are also forgetting about councils’ statutory duty to provide a library service.

          • Charles Burling says:

            I’m fully aware of the statutory duty. Laws can actually be changed, nothing lasts forever and councils have quite a lot of discretion about the numbers. My point is that councils could make more use of above and below the space as well as the space itself. And is purchasing, storing and administering the lending of books an adequate use of finite resources? The wider point is that councils really should have a long hard look at assets and services. In an ideal world you’d have a zero based budget and start again and you would do a lot of things very differently and, perhaps, a few things not at all. Local government seems to be carrying a lot of historical baggage.

  2. Lewis White says:

    When I go into public libraries, it is striking how many people are studying. The libary provides a warm, quiet and spacious place for this key need, for students, particularly adults, many of whom will not have facilities at home, or home will be too noisy, cramped or or cold. Computers and books are at hand in the public library. When I have experienced periods of unemployment, the library was an important sanctuary, and a way of avoiding isolation at home alone, even though I have hundreds of books at home. I could not have got that by going down to a Wethespoons, or cafe, neither would I have had the money to go there. Libraries are also a source of reference material, free of charge, that can not be seen on line.

    Some years ago, Croydon rebuilt its central library, as part of a complex–The Clocktower- including the museum. Croydon has also refurbished other libaries. To me, co-location of a libary (as long as it is well-stocked with a variety of books, and located in an accessible, central position) together with other council functions seems to be a good concept.

    Southwark council have recently built the Canada Water library ( a building resembling a stealth bomber or tank, as imagined by a cold-war era Leonardo da Vinci) and a few years before, the Peckham Libray (the one on stilts, that looks like a War of the Worlds machine used by the alien invaders.

    These seem to be very popular with young people, as far as I could see when I have called in. Maybe the modern architecture attracts them, maybe the books. Or other facilities and events. What ever, the young people were there. Not out drinking in the street, or sniffing glue in an alleyway.

    I would love to see a new library for Purley, co-located with a renewed pool and gym, in a
    new building, maybe with a cafe too. With a really nice tower block on top, to fund them.

  3. Anthony Mills says:

    You really ought to have an ”intense dislike” button for a response to the likes of Charles Burling. Many of the books I need to maintain my continuous professional development, [as even though now retired, I retain a professional membership] are either out of print or priced in the hundreds, and yet are available, as nowhere else, via the interlibrary loan service, which was abandoned by Carillion but reinstated when libraries came back in-house. This is just one of the many specificaly book-based services that are otherwise unavailable unless a full time, paying student with access to academic libraries. Nor does he seem to have the remotest idea that real poverty makes ”I’d give them nothing” a brutal dismissal of the needs of a substantial proportion of the population, for whom libraries were instituted in the first place and who have famously never gone away…

    • Charles Burling says:

      I was expecting a few replies like that. For your CPD, you can duff up the subs and read it all on the internet or get on a bus and visit a deposit library. As for real poverty, I haven’t seen it all but I’ve seen enough and I’ve never had a discussion with someone who is a) poor and b) makes the provision of the latest best-sellers a priority. I have, however, met some really poor people who need somewhere to keep warm.

  4. I remember a Charlie Burling who was a Croydon Labour Councillor about 20 years ago. He was Chair of the Highways Committee. Same person?

  5. Lewis White says:

    Why are we in this mess?. ALL Leisure centres, pools and Libraries should be open by now.

    Covid gives but a partial answer. My guess is that Croydon’s cash-strapped state stems mainly from the continuous reduction in funding from central government. Something has to give.

    • Another partial answer, though, Lewis.
      Croydon is not the only borough to have had to deal with covid, or the blight of a decade of Tory austerity.
      But no other council in London, and few others in the rest of the country, are in the same parlous financial mess.
      Why is that?

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