Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) sponsored a deputation at last week’s Council meeting about closing the purpose built library in Sidcup and replacing it with something squeezed into the old Blockbuster store on the corner of Elm Road. She had voiced her own misgivings in October last year and two months ago.
Sidcup resident Noel Lake who represents the Sidcup Library Action Group put his case for the status quo.
The existing site for the library just a few steps from the centre of the High Street “is perfect” he said. It is “an appropriate position with a welcoming area outside where people can sit”. The new plan gives little thought to library users.
There is plenty of space “where children can enjoy books and take part in activities” and “these popular aspects really need to be retained or even improved. It has all the features a modern library should have. A little art gallery, meeting rooms, an internet suite and workstations. It is even more useful now that the pop-in parlour across the road has been closed.”
“We know very little about the Councils plans but we think we know that there will be less floor space. The new site is on a very busy corner hemmed in by bus stops and very restricted pavement space. Not very suitable for access by parents with children or school groups. The busiest and noisiest point on the High Street. Parking might be difficult and the Council is not being as transparent as it might have been. The people should have been consulted.”
“We have sent out 2,000 leaflets and talked to over 300 people. They can’t believe there is such an idea to put a library on such a busy corner.”
Councillor Slaughter asked Mr. Lake what exactly residents have been saying to him.
Mr. Lake said he had mainly spoken to library users (surely the only people whose opinion is valid). They like the idea of a cinema but “a lot of people know nothing [about the library proposals]”. Those that do are “mystified. They cannot see the logic of it and there is anger that there has been so little consultation, They are cynical of the Council’s intent and believe the idea is based on raising capital [from sale of the old library]”.
Cabinet Member Craske wanted to ask “two short questions”.
Had Mr. Lake been to Crayford Library and seen the Post Office and the increased footfall and was he aware that there had been emails in favour of moving the library to smaller premises “which would enhance its long term future”.
If Councillor Craske had aimed to trip up Mr. Lake he must have been sadly disappointed. He had been to Crayford library and “applauded the inclusion of a Post Office but it had nothing to do with Sidcup Library”.
Councillor Craske may have had a few emails but Mr. Lake “had personally spoken to more than 100 people and my colleagues will say the same and they are opposed. We have the feel of public opinion.”
Councillor Eileen Pallen (Conservative, Barnehurst) was particularly silly, she said the relocated library would be able to open for longer. “Would that be a positive benefit?”
Mr. Lake agreed that it would be but there is nothing to prevent longer opening hours on the existing site. “There is no logic in that [Pallen’s statement]”. Nor was there.
In Noel Lake, Bexley Council had met its match.
Councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) said that some people were pleased because they lived closer to the Blockbuster site than the existing library. Well there’s an overwhelming argument!
People going to the cinema would be able to pop into the library. Well maybe if it sold popcorn! Councillor Leaf seemed to be scraping the barrel more thoroughly than usual.
“Would Mr. Lake cooperate with the Council’s plans?” Mr. Lake reminded Councillor Leaf that no one knew exactly what the plans were except that the new library must be smaller than before.
Councillor Cafer Munur (Conservative, East Wickham) asked if Mr. Lake was aware of the increased footfall at the relocated Blackfen library now run by a voluntary group. Mr. Lake was very aware of it because he worked nearby but “not sure of the point you are making. Are you suggesting that more people use High Street libraries? The two issues are not parallel”.
The Mayor glanced at his egg timer and closed down further debate.
The Sidcup Library Action Group has a Facebook page and there is a petition to sign.