Replacement of Northcote library has been given the thumbs up by Tory Councillors

Authors: Amelia Milne & Cyril Richert

On Tuesday 19 September, Councillors from the Overview & Scrutiny Committee were asked to back the scheme to replace the current Northcote library by a block of flat, and rebuild a new library facility with facilities and more residential units on the Chatham Hall site.

Attending the meeting were Councillors O’Broin (Chairman); Councillor Ms Torrington (Deputy Chairman); Councillors Anderson, Belton, Field, Hart, Jones, Lescott, Nardelli, Stokes, Mrs. Strickland and Walsh.

With no surprise the meeting reflected the division on party line : Conservatives all in favour of the plan supported by Cllr Dawson and Cllr Cook, Labour Councillors taking local residents’ side and opposing the proposal [1].

Wandsworth Council has published a press release laying down argument in favour of their plans to redevelop  the Nortchote Library. They claim that:

  1. The consultation on the latest proposals showed “clear support for a modern new library building“.
  2. The design of the existing library “is outdated by modern standards“.
  3. The revised proposal will see “a 3 storey library with buggy parking space, enlarged study accommodation, self serve kiosks for book loans, computer and digital learning areas and a coffee and drinks outlet next to the section containing newspapers, magazine and periodicals“.
  4. The new building would “incorporate a separate community centre“. It would also “create a new business suite on its second floor offering small businesses and the self-employed […] adaptable work spaces and meeting rooms for hire“.
  5. The council is working with all the local groups that currently use Chatham Hall to help them find alternative accommodation if these plans proceed“.
  6. The construction costs would be met by building residential units (7 flats) and retail space on the existing library site, along with 9 flats and 2 shop units on the current library site in Northcote Road.

A group of local residents is strongly opposing the plan

A group of local residents claim that the consultation was directed so that the result would be achieved that the Council wanted (something we also saw for Peabody). The whole proposal (because it is only preliminary according to the Council) has been vague throughout (no financials have been presented and no detailed plans) so people said they did not know what they were voting for. Now that it seems that the plan is going ahead, they wonder what was preliminary about this “consultation”.

In addition a local resident said:

“I spoke to several businesses and their employees along Northcote Road who knew nothing about the plans.  I spoke to many of my neighbours many of whom knew nothing about the proposal.”

> Read our article: Council’s proposal for a new Northcote Library opposed by residents

For local residents, the reasons for a new library Don’t Add Up:-

Shutting down libraries: The reasoning for the new library is that apparently most councils are shutting down libraries. However residents have examples of other libraries such as in Stoke Newington and another in Pimlico, both of which have great libraries and show no sign of closing.

State of disrepair: Local Conservatives Cllr Peter Dawson (who has not responded to an email asking for details on the plans) said that both the buildings were in a state of disrepair and they needed new boilers. However there is no asbestos in Chatham Hall and it is not clear if the current library really need a new boiler (cost is about £2000). Ofsted rated the building and the Alphabet nursery school (currently using Chatham Hall) as ‘Outstanding’; it is unlikely that they would have given this rate with a building in disrepair. Labour Cllr Fleur Anderson seemed to think that the Council has decided not to spend any more funds on the current library, in order to push forward for a full redevelopment.

Council twisting the results: In January 2017, Wandsworth Council promised a Consultation process for their plan to redevelop the library and Chatham Hall site. The process drew a massive response from hundreds of people, who in essence said “Yes, we would like an updated library and community hall” but the same people also voted “No, we don’t like your plans for realising this project“.

The presentation of the consultation results was totally biased in the Council’s report. It is worth quoting the figures laid out in the report (Committee report paper 17-286), page 7:

Support for the overall development
Short form 298 responses: positive 71%, negative 17%, neutral 11%
Long form 496 responses: positive 36%, negative 50%, neutral 14%

and no less than 61% of respondents did not like the Chatham Hall development part of it.

The conclusion of this, from the Council prospective is… :

These results demonstrated that there is support for a new library and community hall; […] The long form results do reveal a lower level of positive support but overall the negative responses do not outweigh the positive and neutral responses.”

Seriously? Most of the stats in the report (page 7-8) for the longer questionnaire come back as negative  (i.e. people did not want a large building development to happen here) or neutral, and yet the overall result has been illustrated by the Council that a majority want a new library and new hall.

In addition 786 people signed the Petition against the proposal and they haven’t factored in those numbers into the Consultation results.

Petition on change.org

The new plans are not taking into account local comments: The new building is still 3 storeys high and the houses along Bramfield are only 2 storeys high, so the new structure would still take away the light, especially during winter time. The reduction of the flats (from 9 to 7 on Chatham’s site and garages) has made a flat roof along some parts which is a security risk as burglars could access the houses along this flat roof. The angled windows still look into the gardens.

At the Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting, two local residents defended the houses along Bramfield Road, flats along Northcote Road and those living in the houses behind the Development at Rainham & Cobham Close.  The Conservative Council seemed unfazed by the plea of the residents, who were saying the new development would be too high and rob them of light, privacy and security. One mother expressed concerns that the new plans had a small buggy park whereas the current library has a good overflow area at popular events like Rhyme Time. She also expressed security concern for a mixed use library where our children will share the space with a business suite, which parents were not happy about at all.

The Council is not working with local groups

At the Committee meeting, the headmistress of Alphabet nursery, currently using Chatham Hall, and one of her parents spoke defending the nursery and how excellent it was. Alphabet heard that Council officers are considering St. Michael’s Church as an alternative accommodation (officers are also considering York Gardens Library, but given the location and the Winstanley/York redevelopment project, this must be a joke. In addition Councillor Hart seemed to think that St. Mary’s Magdalene Church was a good option even though it already houses an Oftsed Outstanding Nursery School there, so there would be no room). 

The headmistress confirmed that the premises (which she only checked out after the Council distributed a leaflet about it) are not adequate and require updated toilets which would be shared with the old people’s centre, and no adequate crossing at Bollingbroke if the children used the common for outside play.  

Furthermore, the Church isn’t available for long enough for the nursery (the church can only do mornings) and isn’t large enough. In addition, the claim from the Council that the nursery can go back to Chatham Hall when it’s rebuilt, fails to assess that the plans do not include an outdoor a playground for the new community hall. Even Conservatives Cllr Jane Dodd uttered at the Honeywell meetingperhaps we should let the children have a playground when it’s built“.

None of the other groups like Ballet or Rugby Tots of Yoga have been approached. The council are unable to find anywhere to relocate the groups and haven’t worked with them despite their claim.

In conclusion, local residents say that it is false that the Council are working with any users of Chatham Hall and they have been kept in the dark. Opposed to the scheme, a local resident said:

“They are not acceptable changes to me. I  and a number of residents wish to retain Northcote Library and the freehold of the current site. The building needs only refurbishment at most.”

However, Julia Matcham, a local resident and CJAG member, is not so negative and commented:

“Both of the buildings need costly work done on them. Neither are remotely interesting as buildings and the library has been under threat for years. If they don’t do this deal, very likely we won’t have a library.

The people who work there don’t find it a good place to work as well: too hot or too cold etc. The Council simply haven’t got money to throw around and as far as I can see this is a logical way of making new buildings pay for themselves. Most buildings around here are three storeys.

While I sympathise with Bramfield Road residents, expecting to only have garages at the end of their gardens for ever is unreal. ‘Progress’ is catching up with them.

My major concern is that there will remain a Library here. The likely alternative is that they would sell the plot anyway and NO library; just another block of flats would be built. As far as I can see they have tried – or are trying – to accommodate the needs of the people using Chatham Hall.

They are not wanting to build tower blocks and as a building, the library cannot seriously be called iconic!!!”

According to the group of local residents fighting against the proposal, the Council really need to go ‘back to the drawing board’ and come up with various different options and then have a proper Consultation.

They say that the Council should propose 3 options:

  1. plan of just refurbishment of both library and Chatham Hall and show illustrations of what this would look like
  2. development with just two storeys
  3. leaving Chatham Hall as is and develop library building.

That would be a fairer way to consult the public by giving them actual options and presenting this with transparency.

[1] Labour Cllr Fleur Anderson pleaded with some Conservatives Cllrs for some social housing on the new site, since both sites are public land. This was vetoed by the Conservatives.

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