Highgate Library campaigners take on Haringey Council in packed public meeting

Councillor Jason Arthur shares Haringey Council's aims for Highgate Library in Shepherd's Hill. Pict

Councillor Jason Arthur shares Haringey Council's aims for Highgate Library in Shepherd's Hill. Picture: JON KING - Credit: Archant

A plan meant to safeguard the future of a 115-year-old library through its relocation has been condemned as “tragic”.

Jacksons Lane has proposed to Haringey Council that Highgate Library relocate to the arts venue ahea

Jacksons Lane has proposed to Haringey Council that Highgate Library relocate to the arts venue ahead of a bid for funding from Arts Council England. Picture: JON KING - Credit: Archant

At a public meeting organised by Haringey Council to outline its aims for Highgate Library in Sheperherd’s Hill, councillor Jason Arthur told an audience of about 150 people: “There’s a misconception about what will happen. We’re seeking to build a library to face the challenges of the future.”

Head of library services Judith Walker then outlined plans for the library to attract more youngsters with better use of technology and improved online access.

Ms Walker compared the library’s visitor numbers – 1,077 per week last year – with those of Jacksons Lane theatre – site of the proposed relocation – reported to be 3,800 a week over the same period.

But Save Highgate Library campaigners turned on the council asking why architect Katy Marks’s revised plans for the relocation had not been made available calling for the end of July deadline for comments to be pushed back.

Assistant director of library services Andy Briggs explained Jacksons Lane’s multi-million pound funding application to upgrade its facilities depended on a fully costed proposal being delivered to an Arts Council England deadline and a decision had to be taken “quickly” because the council needed to decide if a bid without the library could proceed.

However, campaigner Natasha Shivanandan accused the council of blocking the plans and said there was no such deadline.

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Ms Shivanandan said: “When they tell you there’s some enormous haste to get this done it’s a lie. You can’t give a reasoned response to proposals you haven’t yet seen.”

Audience member Sarah Greenberg told listeners: “I would not say the library is under used. It’s a wonderful building and across the street there’s an equally wonderful building. But Jacksons Lane is already full. I find it tragic. I don’t want to make a choice.”

But some in the audience welcomed a relocation, with one man saying he applauded the council’s commitment to maintaining the library service in the face of swingeing cuts.

“Let’s not be afraid of change, but let’s scrutinise that change,” he said.

When the library’s gardens came up for discussion some listeners’ anger intensified after Mr Briggs said Jacksons Lane was “exploring” how to compensate for their possible loss.

“The space this library offers is very supportive of children with special educational needs,” an audience member said before asking the council what would be done for users at Jacksons Lane.

In reply cllr Arthur said: “There are certainly groups that aren’t using the library as we would like to see.”

In response Ms Shivanandan said campaigners had a vision for the existing library but Haringey wouldn’t hear it.

But Mr Briggs said: “It would be remiss of us not to explore the [relocation] opportunity given the funding issues we have. There are no plans to improve Highgate Library.”

When asked what might happen to the library in the event of Jacksons Lane going bust after the relocation, assistant director for economic development Vicky Clark said safeguards had been factored into the proposal with a possibilty the theatre may be eligile for a community asset transfer.

Under such a plan, Jacksons Lane would become leaseholders of their currently council owned home but Haringey would retain the freehold, putting a clause into any community asset transfer agreement which meant in the event of the venue folding the leasehold would revert back to the council.

At the end of the meeting in Highgate Woods School hall, Cllr Arthur said council leaders would decide on the relocation in October following publication of Jacksons Lane’s feasibility study. A further public engagement exercise will be scheduled for August.

Lib Dem councillor Liz Morris said afterwards: “Anything that goes before Cabinet always gets approved. Because of that it’s even more important we get a public consultation.”