Camden library saviours: “Give us time to save branches”

Community groups wanting to take over Camden’s doomed libraries have accused the council of not providing enough information for them to formulate proper business plans.

The Heath and Hampstead Society, the Winchester Project and a group of residents in Primrose Hill have emerged as interested parties to rescue Hampstead, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries but fear they do not have enough time or information to act before they close.

Plans to axe three Camden libraries were finalised on Monday after the council’s scrutiny committee decided not to reconsider proposals, despite a “call-in” of the decision by Conservative councillors.

Groups interested in taking over management of the libraries say they need urgent clarification on the leases of the buildings, the accessibility of Camden’s current stock of books, the options for membership and whether the libraries would still be part of Camden’s library system.

Chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society Tony Hillier said: “It is unfair and unsatisfactory and not in keeping with the stated policies to leave these technical issues open for local residents to solve on their own as part of the preparation off a business plan.”

Averil Nottage, chairwoman of the Belsize Residents Association, added: “We are concerned about the viability of these proposals and believe that unless the council is prepared to be more flexible, libraries will close even where there are suitable alternative providers.”

Both groups gave deputations at Monday’s meeting calling for a delay on the decision to allow more time for plans to be put together.

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In an alternative proposal, Camden Public Library Users Groups’ called on the council to reduce opening hours by 45 per cent across all libraries to avoid having to close any – but the council denied this was possible.

The Hampstead Heath Community Association, which did not give a deputation, wants the council to merge the three libraries into one and open a new branch at Hampstead Town Hall.

Conservative councillors accused council bosses of not doing enough research on alternative options, including libraries run by the private sector or volunteers.

But the council denied this, claiming they had investigated all options and had only stalled because of the call-in. Culture boss Cllr Tulip Siddiq said: “The fact is there is a lack of funding in the council which is not going to get any better for at least six years.

“We want to help the libraries and I would like some cooperation instead of trying to deny the fact that we have a huge hole in public funding. There is enough interest in Camden to create community libraries.”