CROYDON IN CRISIS: Mounting repair bills has seen the bankrupt council earmark five public libraries for possible closure. But they are not saying how much they might make if they sell the properties.
Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, reports
More than three-quarters of a million pounds worth of repair bills, plus nearly £900,000 to kit out an unfinished building, are the reasons being put forward by Croydon’s bankrupt council for its money-saving proposals for permanent closure of five of the borough’s 13 public libraries.
The eye-watering capital costs of maintaining libraries in a state where the buildings do not become a danger to those who use them make the £540,000 annual costs of staffing and operating the five libraries pale into relative insignificance.
Libraries in Sanderstead, Shirley, Broad Green, South Norwood and Bradmore Green are being lined up for possible closure. It is the hugely costly blundering over South Norwood Library, with its replacement part-built by Brick by Brick, which underscores the closure plans, and which makes that library’s fate seem sealed.
It means that Croydon Council is effectively announcing the closure of a library it has never actually opened.
Construction of the new library for South Norwood, according to Brick by Brick, has cost £3.8million. Add to that the £500,000 cost to Croydon Council of buying the site, which they later sold on to BxB for just £1.
Now, according to council papers released yesterday with its survey on the future of the borough’s libraries, it could cost at least £889,000 to kit out the building and make it serviceable as a modern library.
The option of keeping the library service in the current building, on Lawrence Road, is not financially attractive, either: the repair bill there is estimated to be at least £438,000 – about four times more than the similar bills for any of the other libraries earmarked for closure.
By law, the council must provide a public library service for its residents. What is less-well-defined is how many library buildings a borough the size of Croydon needs to fulfil its legal obligation.
Under the closure plans, Croydon is hoping to get away with having eight remaining libraries. Though as is clear from the online pubic survey it launched yesterday, it is keeping its options open about possibly handing over one or more of the libraries for volunteers to run.
The phrase that recurs throughout the paperwork is that the council is proposing either closure or that the library is “operated on a cost-neutral basis”.
Library closures tend to be politically toxic for whatever administration implements them, and a ballot-box risk for the local MP, too. The dire situation in Croydon has led to one Labour MP, Sarah Jones, effectively advocating for “community-run libraries”, and the loss of professional librarian jobs, in the hope that she might salvage some votes in Shirley.
Judging by the staffing cost figures provided in the council’s survey released yesterday, between 10 and a dozen librarians could lose their jobs if all five libraries are closed or handed over to community trusts.
Somewhat disingenuously, some might think, no where in the council survey and its accompanying five documents about the libraries under threat (called “factsheets” by the council), is there any mention of the potential development value of the properties involved. In 2018, long before the borough’s finances had hit the rocks, the Labour-run council had engaged consultants to draw up a blueprint for selling off library sites or redeveloping them for flats or other uses.
Certainly, were all five libraries, plus the unfinished new building in South Norwood, flogged off to commercial developers, the council could expect to receive a few million quid to help pay off its £1.5billion debts.
Also missing from the survey is any information whatever on the eight libraries which are not under threat – presumably because the council does not want to provide the communities who are about to be deprived of their local library to be able to compare and contrast the financial merits and user numbers with those that have escaped the axe.
Yesterday, in a statement issued by the council, they said, “In response to the borough’s unprecedented financial deficit, the council has launched an online survey asking residents how they use the libraries service and what their views are on proposals to close five of its 13 library buildings.
“The buildings at Bradmore Green, Shirley, Sanderstead, South Norwood and Broad Green will close unless viable alternative plans are found that cost no public money. These five libraries have expensive long-term maintenance costs and dropping visitor numbers.”
The survey runs until March 7; then there is a formal consultation expected in April and May (ooo, lovely, just before the London elections, when Patsy Cummings, a councillor in South Norwood, will be asking for your votes; Cummings was the council’s deputy cabinet member for… finance). A final cabinet decision expected in the summer.
Solving the equation of how many public libraries are enough, the council says, “Working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the council will ensure it meets the statutory requirement to have a comprehensive and efficient library service.”
Behind this particular council clusterfuck is Oliver Lewis, the cabinet member for libraries and shit, who attracted national notoriety when he doled out thousands of pounds of public money for performance art that included butt plugs and on-stage defecation.
Yesterday, Lewis said, “We intend to keep open at least eight buildings and our wide-ranging digital access but we also face some tough decisions, so I urge anyone with an interest in our libraries to take part in this consultation and help shape the future service.”
To request a paper survey, call 020 7884 5159 or write to Croydon Central Library, Katharine Street, Croydon CR9 1ET, or simply click here.
Read the council’s briefing papers for each of the under-threat libraries here:
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It is a disgrace and still Councillor Lewis holds his position! Outrageous. Perhaps he could speak out on the poor decisions that he has been party too – he’s been very silent. Do the decent thing and step down, acknowledge your part in the calamity that is Croydon culture.
We need to get back the £1,000,000 (+++) that Croydon Council gave to Bournemouth swimming pool operators BH Live (for doing absolutely bugger all) and get this library open for the benefit of the Croydon community. Why should the fat cats in Bournemouth benefit from our council tax?
I speak of Shirley and Sanderstead only.
Looking at some of the figures presented, the usage is not very large, however, for those that are local and use them, it is important to them.
Has any thought been given to redeveloping the site(s)? This redevelopment could include ground floor community use including the library with cost-effective flats over.
PS Dont let B&B anywhere near or the costs will escalate!
You answer your own question with your last line. South Norwood was intended as the template for the consultants’ plan to relocate and redevelop at least four libraries. The problem was that, in the hands of Brick by Brick, what should have made the council money ended up bankrupting the borough.
I’d hate to see Shirley demolished: as the photos show, it is an attractive and unusual Art Deco building which is just right for the period in which the surrounding estates were built.
Losing it would be tragic.
Such a shame. Dalston library was built recently with flats above and a coffee shop, a successful combination.
An important difference with Dalston, though, Becca: there was no involvement of Brick by Brick.
Let’s not get confused about what’s happening with Brick x Brick; at the roots of the issues surrounding this company is (I) lack of strong and knowledgeable leadership and (ll) unexperienced staff.
There’s a simple solution to this.
There are countless small, talented, experienced private architectural practices who could delivered on Croydon’s libraries brief without the fuck-ups and the coming back to mummy for more money.
Don’t forget, the Brick x Brick entity was set up by Alison Butler, Jo Negreedy , Paul Scott and Tony Newman – all now discredited or sacked – it cannot be safe allowing it function further in its current form.
I am very glad that Inside Croydon provides a forum that presents differing views.
Thanks to Becca for highlighting the new, successful Dalston example of library, cafe and flats .
It shows that redevelopment can woirk out really well, from many perspectives.
It is not an easy task , I imagine, to be in the decision-making seat regarding the future of libraries.
An emotive subject. But someone needs to make decisions.
Is there a need for libraries now , with books so cheap, and electronic media? In some ways, the answer has to be “No”.
It would be very instructive to see an age-profile of regular users as well as numbers.
My guess is that some libraries are frequented by the over 70 generation, whose instinct was to borrow books as well as buy them. Am I recalling correctly that Boots the Chemists used to be a lending library as late as the 50’s and maybe, even the 60’s ?
What about the younger generations?
Parent and children reading sessions…. art events…. great !
I do know that study space in a warm, safe place, is ESSENTIAL for adults whose homes are unsuitable, but are trying to advance their life via self-education. It would be really tragic if we eliminated their study space out of existence.
Likewise, if you are unemployed libraries can be a haven. They were for me.
Plus , normal borrowing and reading the paper and magazines. Fine!
But………….. there is no point in limping along with a collection of poorly-equipped and stocked buildings if nostalgia is blinding us to the reality of the need to develop a modern service that caters for current and future needs, and is resourced accordingly.
With no magic money tree, funding is needed to renew buildings, refurnish, restock and re-equip with up to date computers for public use.
I would rather see a few fewer libraries if the remaining ones were (1) well stocked (2) well equipped with many study spaces (3) located at a central location easily accessible by public transport and by car with nearby parking for busy family users who want to nip in after school. This probably means a central location within a local centre. .
I see absoloutely absolutely no problem of redeveloping some buildings . How about providing blocks of “flats for older people only” above a new library, if this were located in the centre of one of Croydon’s local areas? The residents would be close to shops, services, and bus routes.
Some buildings like Purley Library and Coulsdon town library are really well-crafted, well-built buildings. They are high quality architecture. They haven’t reached their sell by date, as buildings, but time has moved on. It is time for a big re-think. They are in need of major refurbishment / renewal. There should a creative, but practical and cost-savvy look, at whether they could not be incorporated in a new development. Even if their library function were relocated to a more accessible place, like co-location with the Purley swimming pool.
Look at St Pancras station for renewal– a fabulous combination of an awesome Victorian station into which a series of ultra modern glass shops have been inserted. The combination is truly magnificent–and in fact, has a richness of contrast and–a key element–vitality because people are there.
The current South Norwood building is in fact a well-designed 1960’s building, designed by Croydon’s Borough Architect, in the days when Boroughs were allowed to build their own council houses and municipal buildings. This is a building that should be kept, but adapted, extended.
Some buildings will be very poorly insulated, not be of signifcant design merit, and be on big plots– definitely, better use can be made of such sites and such buildings, perhaps replacement with a modern building for flats, with library below.
Thanks Inside Croydon for publicising the Consultation.