Alan Bennett adds his name to protest against Camden library closures

ALAN BENNETT has joined dozens of residents to show his support for Chalk Farm Library and try to save it as Camden Council continues apace with its planned cuts.

Mr Bennett, 76, was unable to attend a public meeting on Tuesday, but made his views known by writing a letter of protest which was read out.

“It’s plain that in closing down libraries the coalition is sheltering behind the local authority,” Mr Bennett wrote. “But the local authority is also sheltering behind the government. Each blames the other and library users are the losers.

“A child can learn to read at home as I did 70 years ago. But my only access to books, and which changed my life, was at the local library.

“Deprive a child of that and you hinder its development and damage it for life. Closing libraries is child abuse,” the playwright warned.

Mike Clarke, the head of libraries at Camden Council and Labour cabinet members Tulip Siddiq and Patricia Callaghan also attended, answering questions from residents.

The councillors warned that all 13 of Camden’s libraries will be affected, as the council slashes �2million from its �8million libraries’ budget. A public consultation, which invited library users to comment on how they would prefer the council to make the cuts, closed on Monday.

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Cllr Tulip Siddiq told the meeting: “No-one is denying the value of libraries; I recognise all the benefits they bring.”

But that did not placate the audience which was furious that the council is contemplating disposing of such a vital resource at all.

Music publisher Eddie Levy of Oppidans Road said: “It’s quite extraordinary that this is one of the most creative areas in London, probably in the country; it’s full of writers, actors and composers and yet you’re thinking about closing libraries. It doesn’t make sense.”

One of the ideas that Primrose Hill residents suggested to keep the library open, was to install a cash machine there, which a bank would pay for. They also wanted to know whether the library could diversify to offer more community services, or hold drama, language and gardening classes. Others asked whether more affluent residents could make donations, pay a subscription to the library, or for Wi-Fi connection.

Primrose Hill resident Philippa Jackson, 38, wanted to know how the council would reach its final decision on which libraries to close. Cllr Tulip Siddiq said the results of the public consultation should be published in two weeks and she will then present her findings to the public in May, before the council votes on where the axe should fall in June.

Ms Jackson told the Ham&High: “They’ve closed the consultation now and none of these ideas have been fleshed out financially but they’re making the decision in June. The whole process is thoroughly disenchanting.”

Caroline Cooney of Primrose Hill asked whether the council had made cuts to its management role.

Mr Clarke claimed it had saying that 44 per cent of management roles were not being replaced and that the council had already made �400,000 savings to the libraries budget through back office cuts.

After the meeting the Ham&High asked Mr Clarke if he would be taking a pay cut if the libraries closed as his responsibilities would reduce. “No. No I won’t,” Mr Clarke said.

o Best-selling author Deborah Moggach will give a deputation at a full council meeting on Monday (April 11) calling for councillors to save Heath Library.