North Kensington Library

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RBKC-Pulling the wool over our eyes!

The Grenfell Action Group would like to draw our readers attention to a rather puzzling document concerning the North Kensington Library that has recently come into our possession. The document is a “Briefing Update” compiled by Sweett Group (now named Currie & Brown) for Mike Clarke (Head of Library services RBKC) and appears to have been commissioned, in the Summer of 2016, by the Project Board overseeing the construction of the new North Kensington Library building .

The “Briefing Update” looks at three different options regarding the funding needed by the RBKC to keep the much loved North Kensington Library building in it’s present use and how “to make the current library a modern fit for purpose facility”

One really has to wonder what motivation the RBKC had for commissioning this study, in the Summer of 2016, as it is a well established fact that the Council had already entered into a PRIVATE BUSINESS DEAL with the Notting Hill Preparatory School in 2015 to dispose of the library building, via a long term lease, into the hands of this private school.

It seems most disingenuous of the Council to then commission an exercise into the viability of keeping the library open as a public service when the buildings future had already been decided. We can only assume that the Council are fearing some sort of legal challenge and that they needed to have evidence that they considered other options for the future of the library building before leasing our much loved library building to their friends at Notting Hill Prep.

The “Briefing Update” document opens with the investigators doing their level best to find reasons why our much loved and 125 year old library is no longer “fit for purpose” and why it should no longer be used as a public building. As part of their propaganda exercise they list the following issues (while failing to provide a list of any of the advantages that the current building provides):

“The difficulties of staffing and managing a library over a number of floors, where the ancillary/ staircase cores sqm makes up a high proportion of each floorplate;

Insufficient WIFI, data and power access throughout the building;

Accessibility including disabled access issues throughout the building – including insufficient door entry widths, circulation space, turning space for wheelchairs in most parts of the building which require building/ structural alteration throughout;

Current lack of ancillary support spaces – refreshments, catering provision, toilets and baby changing, buggy storage”.

The Grenfell Action Group and current library users would have no problem in challenging each and every one of these assertions most of which appear to be based on opinion and prejudice rather than any factual evidence. For example, we challenge the assertion that the library building is difficult to staff and manage simply because it is spread over three separate floor levels. One member of staff on each level is all that is required to facilitate the smooth running of the library building and we believe that a library service that has over 15,000 users per month deserves at least this level of staffing. The reports claim that the spacious and ornate stairwell is a detriment to the library building shows that they are really little better than philistines and have no idea about what makes a building aesthetically beautiful and so loved by the local community.

Current users of the library challenge the reports findings that highlight a lack of WIFI, data and power access throughout the building. We believe that the computer facilities in the North Kensington library are entirely sufficient,  act as a hub of community activity and help make the current library such a valued and treasured resource. We cannot believe that in the 21st Century it is not possible to increase WIFI, data and power accessibility throughout the building at a comparatively low outlay. What makes this issue even more toxic is that there is virtually no provision for computer services to be provided at the new library building. The Council have informed the local community that there will be no designated computer space and, as a result, we will be expected to borrow laptops from the library and work from home. This approach signals a complete misunderstanding of the importance of the current computer provision at North Kensington library and that both the Council and their quisling architects have no real understanding of what is important and what specific services are actually needed by local residents many of whom cannot afford WIFI at home.

Furthermore, the only research that has ever been carried out into disabled access of the North Kensington library has found that there are no issues with accessibility and made no mention of concerns regarding wheelchair use inside the library building itself. It is a shameful fact that the RBKC has not had the sense or good manners to engage the advice and input of Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea (located just up the road in Whitstable House) and chooses to make assumptions about disabled people’s access of the library space based on opinion and not fact. We challenge the report to provide evidence of these findings and that manoeuvring a wheelchair about the proposed new library building will be any easier than in it is in it’s current location.

The local community has been using the North Kensington library for a total of 125 years without needing the use of ancillary support spaces – refreshments, catering provision, toilets and baby changing and buggy storage. We challenge the Council to explain why they are, therefore,  not closing the Notting Hill  Gate library or Chelsea library both of which lack many of the facilities listed above. If the Council care so much about providing public toilets then why did they close down the public conveniences in Portobello Road a few years ago. If the Council had not been in such a rush to dispose of the Westway Information Centre to the same Prep School who are leasing the library then many of these facilities could surely have been provided there!

The report explores three options for upgrading the current library building and the cost associated with each option. Option 1 comprises a minor refurbishment with no major changes. Option 2 comprises a major refurbishment with the addition of a Mezzanine floor plate at 79sqm. Option 3 comprises a major refurbishment, remodelling and extension with the addition of Mezzanine floor plate and an extension of 267sqm, providing an extra floor at the upper level. The above options are costed as follows;

Option 1     £3m+,

Option 2    £7m+

Option 3    £10m+

The report concludes that none of these options would be feasible:

“Summary analysis: The project team has reviewed the existing location and identified that there are limited options in terms of extending the existing building, with adjoining buildings on both sides. Option 3 therefore allows for an additional floor at upper level, but in terms of listed building consent and statutory consultation, this option may not be feasible. In terms of meeting the brief requirements, none of the options properly address the issues fully”.

The Grenfell Action Group believe that the report by Sweett’s Group sets out to find added costs and a myriad of spurious reasons why the current library building cannot be made fit for purpose to carry on as a public building. We believe that they have only looked at and analysised all the negative issues to do with the present North Kensington Library building while totally ignoring the positive attributes that maintaining the library would bring.

Of course this ignorant Council, who will have been responsible for the briefing of this report, know the price of everything and the value of nothing so it is obviously too much for us to expect them to understand the importance and worth of heritage and culture the present North Kensington library brings to the local community. It goes without saying that RBKC never even bothered to consult with local people about what the library means to them before handing the building over to an elitist Prep School!

To illustrate the underhand way the Council approached this Budget Estimating exercise they asked Sweett’s Group to add the estimated cost of installing a Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) to each of the three options. Remember that option 1 was supposed to represent a “minor refurbishment with no major changes” so the inclusion of a MUGA seems a grand departure from this brief. Anyway, anyone who is familiar with the current library building will know that it is not suitable to house a MUGA and, therefore, it’s inclusion in any of the proposed budgets seems entirely arbitrary and designed to inflate costs and make the quotes appear more expensive. The Grenfell Action Group believe that the inclusion of the costing for a MUGA  (that was not referenced anywhere except in the small print) may have been designed to mislead the public in that it added £130,000 to the budget and represented approx 20% of the whole cost for option 1.

Finally, what no one has yet explained is how the Notting Hill Prep School are going to be able to finance the improvements that they will need to carry out to make the library building fit for their own purposes. It stands to reason that they will be obliged to address and remedy many of the same issues highlighted in the “Briefing Update” including improving power supplies and making the building disability friendly. The Council estimate that the cheapest option available to renovate the building and make it “a modern fit for purpose facility” is in the region of £3 million+.  Realistically, however, it seems more likely that Notting Hill Prep School will need to employ one of the more expensive options, either option 2 or 3, to make the building really fit for purpose as school premises. We question whether they have the necessary finances to carry out this work themselves (even with a helping hand of £365,000 from Council Tax payers to assist them). We also believe that the figures provided in the “Briefing Update” may have been highly inflated to justify the Council’s ambition to dispose of the North Kensington library building in what amounts to a rather shady looking private business deal.

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