Libraries decision called into question

Council wants Wood Street Library to be sold and relocated, reports James Cracknell

Wood Street Library

Wood Street Library, built circa 1950, is set to be sold for redevelopment, with a new library building built in Marlowe Road

The decision by Waltham Forest Council to close a library building will be scrutinised after opposition councillors accused the authority of presenting false information.

A report stated the cost of refurbishing Wood Street Library was £2.5million, a figure used to justify the decision to sell the site for redevelopment and create a new library instead on Marlowe Road Estate.

The council wants the sale of the existing Wood Street Library site – for an expected £2.6m – to fund the creation of the new £2m library building.

However, the opposition Conservative group of councillors accused the council of overestimating the refurbishment cost and ‘called in’ the decision so that it could be scrutinised by a committee in August. Councillor Alan Siggers told the Echo: “The £2.5m cost is extraordinary. I think it is wrong and I suspect it was put together hastily.

“The council’s cabinet seemed to be unwilling, or to lack the capacity, to scrutinise the figure. That’s why we’ve called it in to scrutinise it.”

The council wants the money leftover from the sale of Wood Street Library to help fund a full refurbishment of Lea Bridge Library, which is expected to cost £822,000. This work would also be part-funded by a Greater London Authority grant of £411,000.

Lea Bridge Library

Lea Bridge Library, built 1905, will be refurbished

In a public consultation, which received just over one thousand responses, 69 percent of local people opposed the relocation of Wood Street Library. Of those respondents who were regular library users, 84 percent disagreed with its relocation. In response the council promised that the new library building would be of at least equal size to the existing one.

Councillor Clare Coghill, the council leader, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to further

improve two of our libraries and bring them into the 21st Century. Despite the council making £115m in savings we have not reduced the number of libraries, unlike other councils, and we have continued to invest to make them more accessible and user-friendly.”

A new Wood Street Library building would be sited opposite Wood Street Station, in council-owned premises, and include a café.

Cllr Coghill added: “The current Wood Street Library will remain open until it moves to Marlowe Road in late 2019 and the relocation will not affect access to library services. There is clearly great love for this building but unfortunately renovating it isn’t the most effective or efficient way to spend council money.”

The Wood Street Library decision will now be discussed by councillors at a scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday 7th August.

Councillor Paul Douglas, cabinet member for culture, said: “The new Wood Street Library will be a modern state-of-the-art facility giving local residents improved facilities in the heart of the community.

“To ensure local residents voice are heard we will be putting together a community board of residents who will advise on the design and facilities of the new library.”