Hampstead residents are gearing up for legal fight over possible library closures

HAMPSTEAD residents are taking legal advice on whether there are grounds to challenge Camden Council in court over its plans to close libraries in the borough.

The Friends of Heath Library organised a meeting last night (Wednesday) in Heath Library, to discuss Camden’s plans to shave �1.6m off its budget, by either closing some of its 13 libraries, or reducing services they offer. The council says it has already saved �400,000 by making back office cuts.

Audience members called for supporters of the library to look at whether a legal challenge of the council’s consultation would stand up to judicial review, on the grounds that the consultation which Camden is currently running, is flawed.

Helen Marcus, who chaired the meeting, said the questionnaire asking for residents’ views on the future of libraries was an “ultimatum” and not a “consultation” because it did not give them an option to keep the status quo.

“Closing libraries is an irreversible step,” she said, adding, “You can’t re-open them, once they’re closed they’re gone.”

Residents also questioned the reliability of the survey because it does not ask users for their name, so people could fill in more than one questionnaire, to try to sway the outcome.

Alan Templeton chairman of the Camden Public Library User Group C-Plug, said: “Camden have made mistakes about the way they have gone about this. There are serious failings in this consultation document. It’s time someone stood up and stopped them.

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“However, we need to wait until the consultation process has ended before taking any definite legal action to wait to see how Camden behaves. They may surprise us.”

Linda Chung, Lib Dem Cllr for Hampstead, said: “The consultation is an opportunity for us to say, please, please, do not close our libraries.

“It’s particularly divisive because of the way it says, which library shall we close?”

Ms Marcus said that the council should be more transparent about how it reached its decision to shave �1.6m off the library budget and called for residents to scrutinise its budget to see if savings could be made elsewhere.

Lee Montague, who is a committee member of the Friends of Heath Library, asked whether council bosses would consider taking a pay cut.

“I’d like to know specifically whether each of these [bosses] is going to take a pay cut. Why are their jobs so sacrosanct?”

No representatives of Camden’s Labour group attended the meeting, but Tulip Siddiq, cabinet member for culture, has previously told the Ham&High that the council is being forced to make the changes because of cuts from central government.

Residents have until April 4 to comment on the future of the libraries.

A meeting on the future of the libraries will be held on Wednesday at 7pm in Camden Town Hall.

For more on this story see the Ham&High.