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Bonkers Blog June 2018

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27 June (Part 1) - Sidcup Library moves. No consultation, no community engagement, no Councillor Scrutiny

Yesterday evening Bexley Council held its first Cabinet meeting following the election almost two months ago - they take their time. As well as the Leader and six Cabinet Members, six Labour Councillors and ten Conservatives put in an appearance. The Labour Councillors had been put at a disadvantage by a lack of microphones. Every Tory had access to a microphone while no Labour Councillor did. Their contribution went largely unheard by members of the public although the sound quality more generally is much improved since patience with the old system finally ran out only two months ago.
Moving Sidcup Bexley Library from its present site in the middle of town to a smaller one on the periphery was mentioned at a Scrutiny meeting last October but by February Cabinet Member Peter Craske was saying he had not even thought about moving the library to the old Blockbuster site on Elm Road.

Such is Councillor Craske’s reputation no one believes a word he says and a Library Action Group was formed gathering evidence and petition signatures. They were supported by Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) who sponsored their deputation in April, they had personally interviewed 300 library users and found there was widespread support for their concerns.

Councillor Craske poo-pooed every single idea and in that he was supported by Councillors David Leaf, Cafer Munur and Eileen Pallen, the latter coming up with the, superficially at least, silly idea that a new library can be open for longer than an old one.

I should perhaps declare that I have never been inside Sidcup Library or any branch of Blockbuster anywhere and fail to see why moving some books from one address to another five minutes walk away should be an issue. Councillor Craske said that even after the move Sidcup would be Bexley’s third biggest library. Maybe he is lying again.

Of far more concern is that once again Bexley Council ploughs on as if it is a dictatorship. It not only ignored the deputation and their supporters but failed to hold any sort of consultation or engage in any way with the public. In law it didn’t have to; the same disdain for the public that came to the fore when the obnoxious Chief Executive withdrew press facilities from public meetings.

Last night it agreed that the move should take place, the ruling party had carefully scheduled its Scrutiny meetings such that none took place between the April Council meeting and last night’s Cabinet to ensure that no spanners could be thrown into the works. Next time a Labour Councillor utters the words democratic and deficit in the same sentence the Conservatives will go onto tittering mode, it is what they do to acknowledge they have been caught out again.

Was there any specific comment beyond the “I’m in charge” attitude so beloved of Leader Teresa O’Neill. Just a bit.

O’Neill herself said the new library would be “exciting” and blamed the lack of debate on election purdah.

Deputy Director Toni Ainge said all the facilities of the old library would be re-provided at the new site and the smaller space (down from 690 square metres to 550) would be overcome through better design. Councillor Craske said his library initiatives elsewhere had been successful and the same would apply in Sidcup. No library had been closed in the past ten years.

He said the proposed cinema was not viable without moving the library.

The new Deputy Council Leader Louie French was wholly supportive of the move. He thought it would attract more business to Sidcup and spoke of the redevelopment of the old Library site which is of course Bexley Council’s main motivator.

Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) spoke for the Library Action Group rather than herself. She said it did not believe the Council had considered the issues they raised at the Council meeting - well no, they were all dismissed instantly at the time, did they expect to be taken seriously?

They were most upset about the total lack of prior consultation and felt that was “underhand”. “There should have been a public meeting to work up ideas” and they are of the opinion that “it was all about selling the Library site”.

They urged Cabinet Members to hold a meeting and engage with Library users failing which they would pursue matters in their own preferred manner.

Councillor Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) was also critical of the lack of consultation and urged that the Council should engage with the Community over the detail of internal design. Deputy Director Ainge promised that she would do so but had no idea when that might be.

Deputy Chief Executive Jane Richardson) said there was little to say at the moment, the design team does not yet exist and all she was able to say was that the cinema would be on an upper floor.


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