Tuesday, 30 March 2021

The Teardrop Explodes: the new Hendon library that is, and is not



Above right: the new 'library' design, which has not been designed.

Well then. A short update to the previous post on the Hendon Library fiasco.

As you know, the Broken Barnet web of  informers spreads far and wide across the borough. And so we learn, via this network, of the experience of one resident attempting to contact the Hendon Hub consultation, in order to ask some very reasonable questions about the size of the fantasy new library alleged to be our Tory councillors' 'offer' in replacement for the listed, former flagship library next to the Town Hall. Which we know now they want to knock down.

We know now, from the careful investigation of local residents and campaigners, that not only do the plotters intend to try to demolish all but the facade of Hendon Library, but that rather than, as we thought, replace this with a purpose built 'state of the art' new library on the old council car park, it will merely consist of something shoved in the bottom of a block of student accommodation, on this site. 

As you will have seen in the previous post, there are remarkably detailed, albeit carefully presented, illustrations of what the new buildings in the Burroughs would look like, if the plotters get their way, and there are images of the new student block which apparently will host a library on the ground floor. It is perfectly obvious that this new block is not huge, and is largely a rounded building, with restricted space. How much space? Doesn't say.




One curious resident, let's call her Mrs X, rang the Hub phoneline. No response. Ansaphone. Left a message asking someone to call her back with more information about the new library. Someone did call her back later that day to say - person didn't know anything much about it, but would ask. Oh. About this new building then ... Was it a completely round building? She was told no, it was in fact a 'teardrop' shape. Ah. 

Rang back next day and told Mrs X that sadly, she couldn't give her 'any numbers', because everything was 'too early 'in the planning stages, and the architect didn't know, and of course it all depended on what people wanted to see in the library. It wouldn't be smaller than what we had (how could it be?).

So what is the measurement of the site? Surely that gives some indication of the size of the footprint of the new library, or at least the new building? 

Mmm. Will have to go and ask about that.

What about the size of the so called 'temporary' library? You've got a floor plan of that on the Hub Information Boards, after all, so you must have some idea of how big that is? 

Will have to go and ask about that too.


The 'temporary' Portacabin library, designed, but not designed, and its size a mystery. The toilet bowls give some sense of the small scale, mind you ... the 'community room', & staff area, will seemingly be only three & a half times the size of the loos.

And, you know, pointed out Mrs X, you can't really run a consultation with residents on the basis of not providing basic information like the size of the library you say we can have. How can we be properly consulted if we don't know what is realistically achievable, in what seems to be an  awfully small space for a library, a community space, areas for study and areas for new functions that you say might go in - as well as the Local Studies Centre and specialist storage space for archival material?

The Helpline person said that more information, including size, would be released in the next round of ... information release. Oh. When? Mid May. After the elections, you mean? Yes. 

Aha! You may be told how big your tiny new library will be, readers, but not until this explosive information won't upset the Tory voters, (well: too late for that ...) and equally significantly, only days before the consultations end ...

So: the architect has designed but not designed a building which may or may not fit the space intended for it, which is an awful gamble, isn't it? Still, as Tory library Chair Cllr Reuben Thompstone says here, "The Hendon Hub project is a fantastic opportunity to improve our offer to Hendon residents ..." Our offer. 

Fantastic. In its truest sense.

The architect has not designed the new building they claim will accommodate the new library, and the design that does not exist, suitably, as we see below, is in the shape of a teardrop. Got that?

A representation of the grief of the people of Hendon, for their lost, listed library, and the memory of their built heritage? Or is it, Councillor Thompstone, the teardrop slowly running down the cheek of Eileen Colwell, watched by new  generations of children robbed by the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet of their right to a comprehensive and efficient library service, as guaranteed by the Public Libraries and Museums Act, 1964?



When two teardrops collide: here we see the small size of the new library that is, and is not.

The new building may or may not accommodate all the lovely things they are encouraging us to believe might be put there, if only they get planning permission. Similarly to the fantasy library which still stands, invisible to all but true believers, in the cursed landscape of North Finchley, it is a library, but not a library: it both exists, and does not exist. It is Schrodinger's Library, an eternal paradox, left dead and alive in a sealed box made by mad scientists in the Barnet Capita Laboratory of Broken Dreams. 

In other words: this is not just any sort of consultation, readers, but a Barnet Tory consultation: a Nonsultation. Verging towards an Insultation. 

Nevertheless: more than a thousand people have already signed the petition organised by residents determined to stop the demolition of the listed Hendon Library. If you haven't already done so, please sign here.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams: the Burroughs, the Hendon Hub - and Barnet Tories' planned demolition of Hendon's listed Library



The Burroughs, Hendon. All of these buildings except the old Workhouse, right, have survived. So far.


Sometimes it is hard to know where to start, when writing about the political scene in Barnet. But the ending is always the same. Increasingly, so many stories now lead back to the same problem, lodged deep in the core of the current Tory administration. 

There is no longer even any pretence of political principle here, no vision for the borough, no democratic accountability: this borough is nothing more than a vehicle for delivering profit to developers - and through this process, profit to Capita, their outsourced planning and regeneration service. 

Everywhere you look there are conflicts of interest, lobbying, undeclared interests, declared interests that are left unmanaged: at every level, within a planning system that is neither accountable nor transparent. 

Want to choose your own named planning officer? (Why?) Well, pay a fee and name your man, or woman. 

Planning officers leave Barnet/Capita and immediately set up in business here, in Barnet, as agents and consultants - sometimes for the same developers they dealt with professionally weeks before. Some even advertise on their websites their former roles as local planning officers. 

A well run authority is meant to mitigate not only the risk from conflict of interests, but also the perception of risk from conflict of interest. But then - Barnet is not a well run authority. 

The biggest conflict of all, however, arguably, is present within the context of the Capita contracts themselves. 

The company is desperate to retain its outpost in Barnet, as it is so lucrative: so many opportunities to exploit, especially from services related to development, planning and regeneration. And with a Tory group in charge who are happy to help them milk as much profit from our borough as possible, therein lies the danger. There is barely an inch of Barnet's landscape that has not been assessed for development opportunity by Capita - even our parks now are at risk.

Most of Capita's income from the Barnet contracts comes from planning and regeneration: clearly the more there is of that, the better for Capita. But what is good for Capita and its shareholders (who have seen the value of their investments plummet over the last year or so) is not necessarily good for Barnet's residents and communities: or good for their built heritage, now at risk as never before.

Every where you look, there are monstrous new developments springing up, pushed through regardless of impact on the community, regardless of whether or not such developments meet the needs of that community, and very often in blatant defiance of agreed local plans for the area drawn up by the authority itself. 

Planning and regeneration, housing and 'growth' are now shaped to suit developers, not residents. There is no coherent strategy other than to push developments: no care for the huge problem of less advantaged families unable to find truly affordable, decent accommodation.

Multi storey towers are imposed in Labour wards, vehemently opposed in Tory wards. Endless blocks of flats have appeared, unaffordable for the vast majority of Londoners, let alone Barnet residents. Family houses, which are desperately needed in many areas, are not built, because there is a lesser profit for developers. Inappropriate conversions of family houses are pushed through, regardless of the impact on the surrounding residential area - again, unless you are lucky enough to be in a Tory ward, but even then, now, this may offer little hope. And Tory voters are beginning to get very, very annoyed by the encroachment on their residential areas. The landscape is changing around them: and they don't like it.

Where are the new schools, GPs, clinics, parks, libraries, needed to support all the new development? Well, who cares about that? Apart, of course, from the residents already suffering from lack of provision of healthcare, especially in the western, poorer side of the borough, whose hope of access to a decent state school is already minimal. Parks? The Tories, as we have seen in the last blog, want to stuff the ones they consider 'low value' with solar farms and electric battery storage. Or sell bits for development, as in my local park. Libraries? 

Ah. Now then.

Yes, here we are again, back with the story covered here, and the truly gobsmacking decision made - before consultation - by the Tories, during Covid, to launch a massive development in the Burroughs, in Hendon, in league with Middlesex University. This is estimated to be going to cost the authority, at the very least, £90 million, which adds to the already whopping pile of loans it will undertake from other development projects, including Brent Cross-Cricklewood, (and of course not forgetting the £23 million lent to Saracens, for a new stand. Any sign of it yet, btw?)

You can read about the council's plans for the Hendon Hub here.

Interesting how some Tory members and senior officers are so keen to play developer with other people's money - public money, taxpayers' money - yours and mine. In the private sector, none of them would be likely to be entrusted with such huge undertakings, certainly almost no councillor in Barnet has any experience or expertise in managing such large scale projects, and probably no senior officer -  but of course in the public sector, if it all goes wrong, they will not carry the can. You won't see them for dust.  You and I, the local residents and tax payers, will be left paying the cost of their folly. Again: no transparency, no accountability, to us, the residents. We are just the mugs who have to bankroll all this development. And they have made sure we can't ask questions, altering the Constitution to make sure we are effectively bound & gagged. Or so they imagine - if you really want to speak out, then you will find a way. 

The idea, or rather the excuse given for these high risk ventures is that they will generate income or interest for the authority. But such ambitious plans were high risk even before Covid and Brexit: now we are where we are, anyone but a fool can see that these plans, even though they may be awfully alluring to Capita, amount to a breathtakingly stupid gamble with public funding. The example of councils like Croydon who have played the same game and ended up in catastrophic circumstances ought to work as a warning to Barnet Tories and their management team. It hasn't. 

The Burroughs scheme - known as the "Hendon Hub' - is centred on completing the apparently unstoppable expansion of Middlesex Uni in this area, linking the properties they have now and those they want to annex - and building a load of new student accommodation. The income from the new accommodation is supposed to pay back Barnet's investment in the development.

Again, these plans were made before Brexit and Covid: there is no reason to think that student numbers will remain stable, and every reason now to expect numbers will plummet, especially from overseas, a market depended on by so many London universities. And there is every reason to question why students coming to Middx Uni would want to pay to live in what will be very expensive accommodation - many of their students come from comparatively poor, BAME backgrounds, and either live at home, or house share.

Looking at the very carefully limited information supplied by the authority,  we learn that they consider it necessary to shove these new buildings up in the Burroughs because ... the old ones they want to get rid of are SO awful, and really should not be in a Conservation Area. Let alone two Conservation areas. Oh yes, did we mention this? The planned new blocks, which are truly awful, but in a new and more dramatic way, are going to be in the oldest and most historic part of Hendon, full of listed buildings, many of them from the early eighteenth century, or earlier - some later, in a grouping of thirties civic buildings, such as the Town Hall, Library, Fire station, the church and other properties.

You might recall that, not so long ago, developers got away with knocking down the lovely 1930s pub in the Burroughs, the White Bear. An inn with this name had been on the spot for hundreds of years. Tory councillors allowed them to demolish and develop it. The developers were told they had to leave the front wall, but somehow ... it was accidentally  knocked down too, and when residents tried to contact council enforcement to save what was left ... too late, there it was, in a pile of rubble.

So what do the new Hendon Hub plans now propose to put in the middle of this historic area? 

Buildings so ugly and intrusive they cannot even bring themselves to put them in the foreground of any of their whimsical, deliberately faded illustrations (which cleverly cut out the large number of eighteenth century buildings which survive beyond the cropped frame ...)

Just look at this: what they plan to put right slap bang in the centre of the Burroughs Conservation area, right opposite the listed Town Hall, and the listed Library ... you'll need to enlarge the image, and squint ...




RAVENSFIELD AND FENELLA 

"The Ravensfield and Fenella buildings are currently leased to the university for administrative and teaching purposes. The buildings will be reaching obsolescence by the end of their current leases, are not of any architectural merit and do not complement nearby historic buildings, failing to make the most of their key position on The Burroughs. 

Barnet Council is proposing to redevelop this important site and create a trio of architecturally outstanding landmark buildings that will greatly improve the look and feel of this part of The Burroughs, ranging from four to seven storeys in height. They will greatly improve the frontage onto The Burroughs compared with the current buildings and improve the local environment with high-quality landscaping and a boulevard atmosphere ..."


So: this illustration chooses to flood your view of the Burroughs with some of the lovely listed buildings that are included in the Conservation area: the Town Hall, the library, the Methodist church, all presented in a charming, helpfully smudged ink and watercolour image, with some of the new and most ugly blocks, tall and rigid, relentlessly out of character with the area, carefully hidden behind a sponged out blur of trees. 

These blocks, frankly, can only have been imagined by someone determined to ignore the context and architectural language of the surrounding historic buildings.

Opposite the Library, painted in colours which are similar to the shades of the older properties, but otherwise again in a crashingly modern style, is another student accommodation block, shoved on the only remaining car park in the area, which is relied on by visitors to the Town Hall attending meetings, events, weddings or registration of births and deaths.

Ravensfield and Fenella, by the way, are the names of early nineteenth century properties that once stood on those sites: with a very interesting forgotten history. But our history, in Broken Barnet, is meant to be forgotten. It gets in the way of development, and profit.

Still, looking forward to the promised new 'boulevard atmosphere', aren't you? Reminiscent of the old days, cafés in the Boulevard Montparnasse, Paris in the thirties, (we'll always have Paris, won't we?) Maurice Chevalier tipping his hat as he passes, Piaf standing forlorn on a street corner, warbling La Vie en Rose, and - oh. Look at this. 

Maybe not, then. 



We are informed that the buildings that will be knocked down 'are not of any architectural merit' and 'do not complement nearby historic buildings'. The absurd implication being that the new ones are of architectural merit and do complement those historic buildings ... And of course, as we are told, they are not only going to (greatly) improve the 'look and feel' of this part of the Burroughs, but will provide something called, what was it  ... 'an exemplar high street' ... Oh. At the same time as a Boulevard? 

Who are they trying to kid? In what sort of way could this possibly be compared to a local high street?

Round the corner in the  centre of the old parish of Hendon, known historically as Church End - there is another Conservation area - and the Hub proposals plan new crashingly modern buildings here, around the ancient parish church of St Mary's and the Grade II * listed Church Farmhouse. (This latter property was formerly our local history museum, which Barnet Tories closed and ransacked in order to sell off the collection and then sell off the building, which they couldn't, so they gave it to ... can you guess? Yes, Middlesex Uni ...)


Church End, Hendon

This part of old Hendon has been the site of a settlement for at least two millenia: there is evidence which suggests there was a Roman temple here, somewhere around the area of the church, and clearly this site is of uniquely important archaeological and historic significance. But who cares? Not our Tory councillors, or Capita. All that stuff in the Church Farmhouse Museum, our local heritage, donated by local residents, was declared to be 'of no value' by then Tory leader Richard Cornelius, and flogged off. Why would they care about the layers of history that lie beneath the soil here?

One of the few remaining community amenities in this area which has not been pushed out by the Uni or the council is the much relied upon PDSA centre. This they propose to demolish, and offer in replacement something plonked on a council car park in far away Osidge.

Osidge really is an awfully long way from Hendon and there is no easy transport link: the people who use a bus to get here with their sick animals (and lots of them do, as anyone who uses the 143 will know, almost always with a mewling, panicking cat in a carrier on its way to see the vet) will have to subject them to a long and difficult journey miles across the borough. Having the PDSA in the less advantaged side of the borough makes sense: after all it exists to provide medical care for animals whose owners cannot afford expensive vet fees - moving right across to the affluent area of Osidge, in the east, does not. 

But let's go back to the Burroughs. Take another look at that rounded student block opposite the old Library. Yes, the old Library. The listed Library. The one they are going to demolish. 

What?

Yes. Demolish. Leaving all but a shell.

They intend to knock down Hendon Library, listed or not. 

All they intend to leave is the facade of the old building. And let Middlesex Uni build their own monstrous carbuncle inside, behind, and attached to the remaining, pointless front wall - and possibly some of the sides. We don't know for sure, because the plans are so carefully vague.



Hendon's listed Library

This is a favoured ploy adopted in the course of some of the most terrible assaults on historic properties now being perpetrated - although only in areas with compliant councils - in London and elsewhere, at the moment. 'The Gentle Author', who writes the fabulous 'Spitalfields Life' blog, has published a book on the subject, entitled 'The Creeping Plague of Ghastly Facadism', in an effort to shame those responsible into some sense of remorse for their architectural vandalism.

These villainous plans for Hendon Library, and the attempted destruction of another part of our built heritage, hidden behind a fake frontage, of course presents the perfect metaphor for everything wrong, in Broken Barnet. Behind Barnet Tories' facade of lies and faux democracy is nothing but a naked contempt for our history and sense of community. Worse still: behind the hollowed out library there is not only a total lack of respect for the idea of a public library service, but for the very idea of the public sector, as we have seen in their failed agenda of mass privatisation, the now discredited, hollowed out council model, meant to save money, now costing us more and more each year.

Of course our Tory members will point to the fantasy new library they claim will be built to replace the one that they want to knock down. They said first of all that a 'state of the art' library would be built on the car park across the road from the Town Hall. Now they admit it will be something shoved in the bottom of the rounded off building you see in the illustration, on that car park.

They are remarkably vague about the timing of this proposed new 'library' and have made plans to stuff a few books in a Portacabin as a 'temporary' replacement. A bit like the five shelves bunged in the Arts Depot that was meant to be a temporary replacement for the new, 'state of the art' library at North Finchley, that was the pretext for shutting South Friern Library. The Invisible Library, as it was known, is still Invisible, and indeed, non existant.

Even if a mini library space is put in the student block, clearly it will be very small, and certainly not 'state of the art'. Plus: this ground floor is supposed also to accommodate the borough's Archives, which require a lot of room, and specialist storage conditions. There simply isn't enough space. And where will the archival material go in the meanwhile? Given by Capita to their subcontractors to store, and never seen again, like the Heritage Collection, and the Grass Farm stained glass windows?

The illustration looks an awful lot like the replacement for the old Church End Finchley library, now next door to Waitrose. There was nothing wrong with the old library, in fact: it only needed refurbishment. But the developers who bought Gateway House wanted planning permission for a luxury development, which they were given after they offered something we did not need, ie a library room on the ground floor, on a leasehold basis. There is absolutely nothing in the new library fittings that could not be removed in the course of a day's work - and they will be, when the Tories think they can get away with closing it, in another round of cuts, simply allowing the lease to revert to the freeholder. They didn't even bother to put the sign for a library on the building above the door. The same temporary feel will be true of the Hendon replacement - if it ever appears in the intended new student block.

If you recall, when they recently spent hundreds of thousands of pounds gutting Hendon Library and reducing the library space in the building to a tiny fraction of its former size they did so claiming there was no real demand for anything better. When reminded (by me) of the legacy of Eileen Colwell, the Hendon librarian who pioneered the international children's library movement, they shrugged, reduced the children's area to a couple of shelving units and stuck a picture of her in the corner.


Eileen Colwell

Now here is the biggest demonstration of the complete hypocrisy of this council's new plans: they claim they want to pay 'tribute' to Miss Colwell, by demolishing her library and putting up a plaque to commemorate her work. Her work, and her legacy, they have already systematically trashed in this borough, in the rounds of savage cuts which even their own consultants told them had gone too far. Children's libraries? In some branches now this consists of a table and two chairs, and a few bookshelves. In North Finchley, and Golders Green, the purpose built children's libraries were gutted, and closed, on the pretext of creating space for income generation - which never happened.

It is absolutely sickening to see these people pretending to give a sh*t about her legacy, while actively complicit in working to destroy it, not just in demolishing the building where she launched her vision of the children's library movement, but in so cynically cutting our library service to pieces, removing from the borough's most disadvantaged children the right to free and easy access to a library, and the joy of reading, having cut and shut our library service, effectively removed professional librarians from the management of the service, sacked workers and replaced them with unstaffed opening hours - and slashed the book stock to the point where there is simply no adequate supply of material for those children.

It's only right and fitting, perhaps, that they should take this rampage to its ultimate conclusion, and start demolishing the libraries, in order to facilitate the progress of development, and engineer further fat fees for contractors. 

Problem is: they can't actually knock Hendon Library down. Inside or out.

The listed features are not simply the external features of the front wall. There are other listed features - (I happen to know because a close friend was the conservation officer who listed this property, and the Town Hall, and so many other properties, before his job was deleted ... but you can see the listing for yourself here). These include external features, not just at the front of the building - but also internal ones. And it is interesting that the brief for the proposed demolishment has in the last few days been tweaked with weasel words glossing over this unfortunate obstacle in the way of demolition. 


The staircase is part of the listed internal features of Hendon Library - the building that Barnet Tories intend to demolish. Pic courtesy of RIBA archives.

So what can be done?

You can stand up and be counted, if you object to these plans, as residents already are: there is a very vocal, very well informed and determined group organising objections to this outrageous scheme. They have started a petition to stop the demolition of the library, which you can find here.

The horrified reaction of residents should send a real warning to the Tory councillors - one of whom, a local Hendon ward member, also objects to the proposals. This part of Hendon has always been considered a safe Tory ward. There are no safe wards for anyone, anymore, and increasingly it is the case that the scale of development in the borough now is so out of control it is affecting the Tory core vote. 

And in Hendon, the residents who will be affected by these plans are not going to tolerate their area becoming nothing more than a campus for Middlesex Uni, with the last community amenities steam-rollered out of existence. 

There is currently, in the time honoured tradition of Tory Barnet, a Nonsultation exercise taking place that claims to be seeking the views of residents in regard to the Hub and the library plans. 

It is clear, however, that the decision has already been made. Looking at the minutes of the Policy and Resources Meeting of December 8th last year, we find this: 


You will note that it states the OBC is approved, and a FBC is to be developed. In my view that suggests a decision in principle has been made, prior to consultation. In regard to the library, it is even more clear: the Committee took the decision to approve the move of Hendon Library to a temporary location - subject to consultation. The separate library consultation, however, did NOT consult residents on the question of whether or not they want the library moved, merely what sort of new library they want. The decision has already been taken to move, however they try to fudge the issue now - and no alternative has been offered. 

And there is absolutely nothing to stop them turning round after a couple of years with the library Portacabin, wringing their hands and saying, sadly, with rising costs, we can no longer offer a new library after all ... Like they did with North Finchley. Remember that this apparent new enthusiasm for a lovely library in Hendon hardly fits with what they did to the old one, and all the rest of them, only a couple of years ago.

You can find the Nonsultation survey here. Be careful, as always with Barnet questionnaires, as to how you respond.

Oh yes: and guess who is organising the Nonsultation? A company called GE Hearn. 

Owned by Capita, of course. 

Which means that the roles played by Capita, in regard to the Hendon Hub are: in planning, regeneration, and consultation with residents - the latter function being undertaken by the development side of Capita. We should also note that they are in charge of the management of council buildings, including the library portfolio.

Does this multiplicity of roles, with all the extra fees it will generate for the company, in the course of these proposals, present a conflict of interests? You might reasonably think so. Has this risk been assessed, and addressed? 

If you object to what is being planned for the Boroughs, and the Library, make sure you speak out: write to the Tory councillors, and write to Hendon MP Matthew Offord, who lives in the area, and has reportedly said he is 'keeping an eye' on the matter, whatever that means. 

Write to Historic England, and tell them to protect the listed Library from these vandals.

Oh, and there is an election coming up in a few weeks. Please remember how much depends on Tories being kept out of power in London, if we want to avoid further overdevelopment of our city: I will be voting for Anne Clarke, who has always fought against the Tory cuts to our library service.

And here again is the link to the petition to save the Library building: please sign and encourage others to add their names. 

Petition to Save Hendon Library.

O

Hendon Library, photo credit Museum of London

Sunday, 31 January 2021

In a green shade: Barnet's open spaces under threat - again - from Barnet's Tory councillors




Highlands Gardens, New Barnet: of 'low value', according to Barnet Tories
Pic credit here and last pic, Lucy Bridgers, High Living Barnet

Updated Monday evening:

Well, goodness me. 

After a week, and two appeals via councillors to extract further information about the scheme to use parks and open spaces in this way, the Service Manager has now sent a most curious statement:

Thank you for your email – I would like to clarify that the Council has no plans to building solar farms or batteries for substations on any of Barnet’s parks.

If you look at the latest budget documents, for next week’s meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee, you will see that there is no mention of parks where we are assessing feasibility. The Council is absolutely committed to improving our renewable energy sources – which are a key way that we can counter climate change, and ensure that Barnet is a green borough. We will therefore continue to look at how we can better generate and provide clean energy across the borough, but I would like to again reassure you that we have no plans to do this through the building of solar farms or batteries for substations on parks.

There are of course other methods of utilising our parks to help generate renewable energy, such as through ground source heating. The link below provides examples of how ground source heating is being piloted in some Scottish Parks https://www.nesta.org.uk/project-updates/harnessing-renewable-energy-parks/.

Kind regards ...

Got that?

"... the Council has no plans to building (sic, don't blame me) solar farms or batteries for substations on any of Barnet's parks."

Oh. Well, that's funny because ...  last week, it seems the Council DID have plans to install solar farms and batteries for substations on MANY of Barnet's parks and open spaces. 45 of them. 

Look again at the story in the local Times last week: the Tories had plenty of time to deny the plans but instead denied that parks would close, which had not been suggested anyway by Labour. 

Clearly what has happened is that the Tory members are frit, as a result of all the publicity. Good.

But look again at the wording of this statement.

No plans, on any parks. 

Doesn't rule out the open spaces that have been listed.

Furthermore, if you look at next week's P&R meeting's budget proposals, you find the following, under Environment: oh, still proposing a 'saving' of £75K from ... batteries at substations and solar farms ... and they refer to the use of 'open space sites'. 





They have removed reference to locations, however.

But ... where are these installations going to go? 

Anywhere they think they can get away with it, is my guess. And they are now referring to 'open space sites' - many of the places on the list come under that definition.

The story continues, therefore.

Good try, gentlemen. 

Didn't quite pull it off though.

Further questions have now been submitted.

For a map that you can use to zoom in on the locations, unlike the rubbish one in council docs, please use this link: tinyurl.com/barnet45os  ...

__________________________________________________________________





Before Covid, Capita laid on an information evening in our ward of West Finchley, in a local church hall, in which they pretended to listen to local residents' views on plans for the area ... while unfolding a list of their own local development targets. 

It was clear that there has been a systematic evaluation of every possible square inch of the borough, for the purpose of development and fee generation, warmly approved by the developer friendly Tories at the Town Hall.

Capita is in charge of planning and regeneration in Barnet - but is also a developer in its own right. Is this a triple conflict of interest? You might reasonably think so. It would make no difference, in this borough.

Since getting their feet under our table in 2013, and the signing (almost entirely unread but approved by Tory members) of the two massive contracts, Capita has been slow to discharge its duties in regard to listing our built heritage, but quick to look for ways of maximising fees from planning and development  - hence the unparalleled extent of unaffordable housing blocks springing up everywhere you look. Does it address local housing need, for affordable family homes, or low rent homes? No. 

But even the most ambitious scalping of our borough's landscape for profit has finite possibilities. What then, when the last plot of ground has been bought up, and the money making machine threatens to run out of fuel?

Along come the latest plans to exploit our local parks and open spaces. The ones they think are 'low quality' or 'low value'.

Yes, you read that right. 

From the same council and planning service that brought you a block of flats in my local park, on land that was supposed to be protected by a covenant put in place by the Victorian philanthropists who gave the land to the people of Finchley, we now see a plan to exploit a large number of parks, playground, and patches of remaining green space. The list and a map, deliberately made impossible to match up locations to names, is here - or see below.

Getting away with immediate development on these spaces would be rather tricky, so they are doing the next best thing, and changing the use - perhaps as part of a process towards eventual development or sale - in which they propose, the wretched schemers, to foist 'solar panel farms' or 'expanding substations' - or building electricity storage units. 

What exactly does this mean? How does it benefit either the council or Capita?  We don't know exactly, as they haven't really spelled out how this would work. 

I submitted questions to Capita about this last week, but they have not replied, despite being told to by a senior Tory member. So - we are forced to speculate.

We all know what a solar farm looks like - fields of panels. 




Substations, we can imagine. 



Storage units? Hard to find out more about this, but perhaps something like this?  


Lovely.

What is the point of this exercise, apart from altering the use of a green space? Is it to 'generate savings' - one must assume via contractors who provide the farms and units? And what do 'savings' mean? It means the council can spend even less than the nothing much they already spend on parks, and hurrah: perhaps Capita can claim more gainshare rewards for identifying this brilliant scheme. Yes: written into the contract that they couldn't be bothered to read properly were variation clauses including this sort of wheeze: for certain 'savings' that Capita identifies, it can claim even more fees from us, in the form of gainshare. Kerrching!

What's that, you don't want substations, storage units or solar farms in every last patch of green space in the borough? 

Oh. 

Let's see that list again. 



Apologies for poor quality - blame whoever uploaded this to the council/Capita report.

I've gone through everyone, looking them up and trying to identify where they are. It isn't easy, in many cases, not just because the list neither gives details of the location, nor a number which corresponds to the map, but because rather curiously, although the majority are listed on the council's own website here, even there it doesn't give full details, such as full postcode. And some don't appear at all, which made me one wonder if the council cannot be sure who owns the land. 

Why on earth would they not want us to know that these places are meant to be parks and open spaces, and why would they be so shy about telling us where they are? 

I just can't imagine.

Why do they think these places are of low quality, or low value?  Because value to Barnet Tories, and their contractors, necessarily must have some material scale, or be rated in a way to make exploitation more easy. 

Hence they appear to have used criteria to assess the worth of these places which are highly questionable, and which would, for example, considers the provision of bins more highly than areas of woodland. Clever. 

Or so they think.

Four on the target list are defined as playgrounds: Barfield Avenue, in Whetstone, (not far from Oakleigh school for  primary age children with severe learning difficulties and complex needs; Deansbrook in Burnt Oak, Hamilton Road - not on the website - and Market Place, in East Finchley. Several others are not listed as playgrounds but have play equipment there anyway. These are in areas where children are desperately short of access to green spaces and play facilities. Oh: mostly Labour wards? 

Ludgrove Playing Fields, in East Barnet? As Mr Reasonable has pointed out, "This makes no sense whatsoever. Ludgrove is a registered football space with changing rooms and disabled access. If Barnet tries this, I suspect they will be facing serious opposition from Sport England and the Football Foundation ..."

Dame Alice Owens Grounds, in Whetstone? Why?

Some of the places I know have caused much puzzlement. Boysland Open Space - this is the name they have given to the remaining part of what used to be open fields near to where I grew up in Edgware. It is next to Rosh Pinah primary school. Parents will be delighted, I'm sure.

Lyndford Gardens Sundial: was stumped with this one until I remembered the little green area near Cranmer Road, Edgware, where my friends and I used to play hide and seek (this was in the Olden Days, when children were allowed to play outside). It had shrubbery at either end, benches, and yes, a sundial. The shrubbery on one end has gone. And the sundial. It would still be a lovely little green, if properly maintained, and there are many young families in the area now, in the Charedi community that has grown there, who would benefit. But, you know: can't have space left unexploited, in Broken Barnet. 

Lawrence Green: a lovely, sloping green space in front of the Reddings, in Mill Hill, just round the corner from where my grandmother, aunt and uncle used to live, in Lawrence Gardens. Right in the heart of Mill Hill Preservation Society area. They will be thrilled to see this taken over by solar farms, or storage batteries, of course. Similarly the other sites in Mill Hill, such as:

Simmonds Mead, a lovely landscaped open space at the bottom of semi rural Lawrence Street, a much needed oasis of green next to the A41, and Mill Hill circus, used to be beautifully landscaped and maintained. The manicured flower bed, as I recalled, after thinking about Lynford Gardens, used sometimes to be in the form of a floral sundial, like Marvell's dial of 'flow'rs and herbs'. Still, no time for green thoughts, in a green shade, these days, in the London Borough of Capita. The sun is not for telling the time: its for generating energy. No not energy. 

Money. 

Fees and rewards.

Charter Green: this was something of a challenge, but turned out to be the large green areas around the west side of the junction of the North Circular and Regents Park Road, in front of a synagogue on one side, and around Finchley's finest landmark, on the other. The latter being  the statue of 'La Délivrance', more commonly known locally as 'The Naked Lady', and adorned with a selection of ill fitting brassières, from time to time. 

The statue was given in 1927 as a present to Finchley council from the owner of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere, so you would think today's local Tories, whose view of the world is entirely filtered through the distorted prism that is the Mail, would pale at the thought of surrounding the poor woman with the dubious tribute of an electric sub station, but then, no: that's the sort of thing they do.

Wise Lane Green: turns out to be that open area of green space at the end of the affluent and unchanged Wise Lane, a residential area.

Gibbs Green Open Space: a road off Hale Lane in Edgware. The mystery space is not listed, but this is a residential area. 

Lyonsdown Road and the Great North Road: another small green area, that they probably think is a waste of space, but adds to the character of the area.

Lyonsdown Road Open Space: a sloping green area with trees, and a bench: in a typically Tory residential area. 

Brent Street Police Gardens: I remember the police station, closed many years ago, of course, but it took a lot of searching to find - there are no gardens. It is yet another development site. Not sure why this is described as a green space.

Many of the sites listed I didn't recognise at first or know personally, but some basic research reveals that they are beautiful, much needed parks in residential areas:

Highlands Gardens: off Leicester Gardens in New Barnet: a hidden gem, a beautiful late Victorian garden once adjacent to the home of Joseph Bevan Braithwaite, a Quaker who made his fortune, funnily enough, from the early electricity supply industry. He inexplicably failed to see the value in turning his garden into an electricity sub station, however, and instead stupidly paid a garden designer, James Pulham, some of whose work for Edward VII remains at Sandringham, to landscape the lovely grounds, with rockeries, water features and a pergola. 

But where is the profit in that?



Highlands and the gardens in their infancy

Local Tory councillor, small - but perfectly formed - retired Actor,  scourge (trigger warning) of that well known Enemy of the People, the Mayor of London: golden cheeked Oscar model, David Longstaff, has refused to answer when I asked him, via twitter, to explain why he and his colleagues voted to consider the proposals to destroy the beauty of Highlands Gardens, in his ward - and all the other parks and green spaces - by installing substations and solar farms. You may like to ask him about this, next time he comes ringing on your door wanting to be re-elected.

Similarly, Tory councillor Roberto "Bertie Wooster" Weeden-Sanz, who for some reason was chosen as the Tory GLA candidate, (he does look good in a blazer and cravat - and the poor boy (thinks he) looks like Justin Trudeau) but has as much hope of being elected as Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, ie none at all, has remained silent when asked about this. Councillor Tom Smith is struck dumb too. 

All of them - silent. The rule of Omertà is immoveable, in the Tory group, here in Broken Barnet. 

That the Tory councillors have dropped a clanger is evidenced by an article by the Barnet Society here which reports that the plans have 'met with an angry response from residents and conservationists'. 

This should act as a warning to them: and of course all Tory members will already be lobbying behind the scenes to insist that parks in their wards should be exempt. 

Elm Park: this is a curious one too, for different reasons - listed as an open space, but quite hard to find on google maps, it is next to Elm Terrace, and Hermitage Lane, and backs on to what used to be the Castle Pub on the Finchley Road, Childs Hill. The Castle was an historic local landmark, and an inn of this name had been on the site for 250 years. This of course meant that by Barnet Tory standards, it was a prime target for development, and yes, they allowed it to be knocked down and replaced by ... a block of flats. 


Elm Park: 'low value', according to Barnet Tories

Rather annoyingly for would be developers, this pretty park, a rare area of open space in a relentlessly urban district, had a number of mature trees which might have spoiled the view - but they were protected at least temporarily by a TPO, tree preservation order, due to the group's 'very high public amenity value'. And oh, how interesting: at that point, the TPO report admitted that ownership of Elm Park was uncertain.

Daws Lane: this is an odd inclusion. It is in fact part of Mill Hill Park, which is meant to be one of Barnet's Premier Parks, and has a 'Green Flag', which is meant to signal good management. Mill Hill Park is full of different sorts of sports facilities, as well mature trees and a nature reserve. It is in a residential area, and well used. Low value?

Basing Hill Park: another location in Childs Hill, and again, with Childs Hill Park, supposed to be a 'Premier'  Park. It is a large expanse of green space, fringed with mature trees, offering sports and play facilities. Again: low value?

Of course Finchley's Victoria Park, my local park, is meant to be a Premier Park as well, but it did not stop Mike Freer, now the local MP, but formerly Leader of Barnet Council, putting the Edwardian Park Keeper's Lodge and garden up for sale. This led to demolishment and development, in a park: a block of flats is now being built there. Yes, in the park.

Is this what is going on now? Changing the use of part of these well placed urban oases, so as to prepare them for flogging off to developers? 

Many of the places on this list are liminal in nature:  on the edge of junctions, at the side of a road between two roads, on the edge of vision, seen but taken for granted; some half forgotten, neglected: but all of these places are part of something precious, and irreplaceable, remnants of our rural heritage, with old boundary hedges, copses, shrubs, a network of green spaces, green corridors, vital for our environment, for local wildlife. Vital for the physical and mental well being of residents, especially now we live surrounded by an increasing volume of over development, increasing traffic, and of course increasing population.

I have a copy of an ecological survey 'Nature Conservation in Barnet' undertaken for the authority, by the London Ecology Unit, and published in book form in 1997. As far as I am aware, this has never been updated, and under the rule of Capita, it never will be, on this scale. 

So much listed here has already been lost, or deliberately forgotten. We must not allow the Tory councillors and their privateer contractors to allow our remaining green spaces to be pillaged and destroyed, or there will be further substantial loss of wildlife.

Looking at the first area on the parks at risk list, Barfield Playground: according to the Survey, this is attached to the former Barfields Allotments which were turned into a nature park. The nature park area itself was saved from being landscaped when it was realised that this would disturb the habitat of slow worms and common lizards - clearly both are protected species, and it would be unlawful for their habitat to be put under threat. 

There may or may not be endangered species immediately dependent on the other parks and open spaces under target now: we don't know, and any survey commissioned by the council will fall over backwards not to find any. But that is not the point: all of these places contribute to the increasingly threatened ecological well being of our environment: every blade of grass, every plant, every bird, every insect, every animal, and every tree. 

Apart from removing areas of those listed places, the impact of energy generating equipment is likely to be profound. 

There are also serious grounds for questioning the unknown health risks to residents, especially children, from such electrical installations, close to play and sports areas.

Finally there is the hugely detrimental aesthetic impact of such ugly installations in our green spaces. 

Again, the vital role played in mental well being of access to nature cannot be underestimated. Only in Barnet would we need even to raise questions about why such proposals would be inappropriate in such locations. Why anyone would think otherwise, is incomprehensible.

At the last full council meeting, Labour's Anne Clarke, member for Childs Hill, and candidate for the GLA elections this May, and Alan Schneiderman, Labour's Environment lead proposed a motion and amendment calling for the scheme to be dropped, and for all parks and green spaces to be protected.

Guess what? Unanimously opposed by Tory members.

Today the local Times paper published a story about the plans, in which reports an extraordinary statement from the Tory Chair of the Environment Committee, Councillor Dean Cohen:

But environment committee chairman Cllr Dean Cohen (Conservative, Golders Green) accused the Labour group of lying about the Tories’ plans. He said the council had “absolutely no plans to close any parks or green spaces”, and the Tories say the council has “no intention of restricting access to any parks”.

Oh, hang on, though. The Tories are not being accused of 'closing' parks or green spaces (although we know they would, if they could get away with it). But it's easier to deny something you are not accused of than to defend something you hope to get away with, isn't it? 

And to say the council has  "no intention of restricting access to any parks" is a completely wrong. Their own reports noted that access may be restricted - and quite clearly space will have to be removed from the public, if only on the grounds of health and safety.

Look and compare the documents highlighted by Labour: 



It is clear that this is another example of an idea dreamed up by contractors, embraced by the more challenged Tory members who fail to understand that what they consider to be of low value will be fought over tooth and nail by their own voters should any of these monstrous installations be put in place. It is a huge political blunder: the whole idea should be thrown out - not just favoured exemptions, in 'sensitive' areas.

If you wish to add your name to the petition to protest about this madness, you may do so via this link.

I would also strongly recommend that you stop voting for these idiots.




Highlands Gardens, low quality, and low value. 

Monday, 28 December 2020

The Treasure House: Barnet Tories resume their war on libraries and plot the closure of their former flagship branch


Hendon Library, pic courtesy Historic England

Updated 26th March 2021

It has since emerged that not only is it intended to close Hendon Library, Barnet Tories and their development partners want to demolish the listed building, and leave only the front wall as a facade ... See new post here.

There is a time for everything, in Broken Barnet: a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot. All of these rites of passage, fittingly, are now supervised and monetised by Capita PLC, the council's outsourced provider.

There is also, of course, a time to roll out controversial proposals that might cause fury amongst the populace, if not carefully managed, and pushed through, while everyone is otherwise engaged. 

Normally the optimal moment for such plotting is in the summer, while (so the Tory councillors and their masters in the senior management team and Capita imagine) everyone is away on holiday, and not interested in what is going on. 

This year, of course, the year of Covid, offers an unprecedented opportunity to roll out any controversial proposal, and hope to get away with it, unopposed - and that, as we now see, is exactly what our scheming Tory councillors have attempted. 

They tried this tactic earlier in the year, when they disposed of local planning committees - removing even further the extent to which ward residents and their representatives may take part in any democratically run planning process. As much as was possible with a Tory majority loaded committee, of course. But interfering  opposition councillors and their pesky residents were getting in the way of the best interests of Capita and the flock of predatory developers who are grabbing every piece of land available in the borough, and screwing out of it as much profit as possible, regardless of whether or not their ghastly buildings meet the real needs of the local community. As with so many other anti-democratic measures taken by this administration, it becomes clearer and clearer whose interests are now prioritised in this borough. And it is not the residents and tax payers.

In the latest example of Covid opportunism, Tory members have turned their attention to another pet project.

After some effort by Labour councillors to secure an independent review of the devastating library cuts which have turned the former nationally recognised, value for money service into a parody of its former self, a report was published a year or so ago which criticised the depth and severity of the actions taken and highlighted the impact on users, especially children, elderly and vulnerable residents. 

The consultants concluded that the cuts had gone too far: not only had staffing been minimised to a barely workable level, and book stock savagely reduced, the physical space for library functions in their own buildings had been shrunk to a nominal and totally inadequate level, with unstaffed hours having a clearly detrimental effect on the standard of service. 


'Refurbishment' of Hendon Library - cutting the library footprint to a fraction of its former space within the building - cost half a million pounds of public money, only three years ago. Now the building is to be given to Middlesex University.

Perhaps the most obvious example of what the cuts had destroyed is demonstrated by the plight of Hendon Library. A handsome building that stands next to the Town Hall, (both of them listed properties), this was once the flagship of an outstanding, beacon standard service: the central borough library. As well as a large volume of books for borrowing, it had a reference library, and a music library, a lecture room, and a children's section that covered half of the ground floor. 

Above the door lintel is an inscription:

Non mimima pars eruditionis est bonos noscere libros: 'not the least part of learning is to be acquainted with good books'.

The idea of opening a library in Hendon had first been suggested in the early 1920s, at a time when providing free access to books was seen as a civic duty, not simply for the leisured classes, but those less advantaged, as we see in this extract from a local newspaper report from February, 1923, of a meeting of the 'Childs Hill Ratepayers Association', and a motion proposed by a Mr Widlake:

I sure that any opponents of the scheme on the score of cost will be ready to admit that public libraries are not only a necessity, but that their cost is not to be reckoned an expenditure, but an investment.” Councillor Taylor seconded the motion moved by Mr. Widlake, and said that personally he would not mind seeing an increase in the rates provided benefits were given. “Poor people,” he said, “should be enlightened as well as the rich.”

A copy of this resolution was sent to the District Council, and in due course plans were made for the building we now know, which was opened in December 1929 by Lord Elgin, President of the Library Association, and chairman of the Carnegie Trust, from whom a grant of £7,000 had been made towards the overall cost of £30,000. A newspaper report of the opening filled three columns, listing dozens of local dignitaries who had attended the ceremony, begun in the Town Hall, and moved to the new building, which was unlocked by Lord Elgin, after he had been presented with a golden key, which Councillor Mrs Bannister, heady with civic pride, explained would 'unlock  our treasure house' ... 

Oh, Councillor Mrs Bannister: what would you make of the barbarians in the Barnet Tory group who have so thoroughly trashed your treasure house, and thrown away the golden key?

Post war, Hendon Library had been the base of the magnificent Eileen Colwell, a widely respected professional librarian who pioneered the international children's library movement - of which I was later a grateful beneficiary, in Edgware, as a child with few books at home, liberated by access to endless supplies of reading material at the new library I visited every Saturday, devouring my allotted three books usually by Sunday evening, re-reading them throughout the week until I could borrow more. I would never have passed the eleven plus, or progressed to grammar school without this resource: and that was true of generations of children from all backgrounds, whose standards of literacy, and educational well being, were entirely dependent on the provision of such libraries.



The pathetic replacement children's library in Hendon, post 'refurbishment', overlooked by the ghost of Eileen Colwell.

This is all destroyed now. Ironically, Barnet Tories think, if they think at all, of themselves as the natural heirs of their heroine, local MP, PM and milk snatcher extraordinaire, Margaret Thatcher, but fail to remember that she embraced and defended the public library system as crucial to the cause of social mobility, through access to education and self improvement. 

They have effectively torn away all chances of disadvantaged children having somewhere safe and quiet to study, somewhere to have free access to books, to guided information. They have removed a vital social hub for lonely or isolated older residents. Many disabled users no longer feel able to access the unstaffed libraries, let alone remain inside one, without assistance. But the Tory members do not give a f*ck about any of this.

The innate materialism and anti-intellectualism of the average, intellectually challenged Barnet Tory councillor means that even if an ideological hostility to the very idea of the public sector was not deeply embedded in their clockwork mechanisms, their antipathy to anything that hints of cultural values, equality or community, would ensure that their war on libraries would continue. 

And so, continue it must, spurred on by the other motivation of their abominable administration: profit. In case you need reminding, a library is not, to the Barnet Tory councillor, and their contractual partners Capita, who now manage the portfolio of library buildings, a temple of education and learning, or leisure. It is a potential property development, or generator of income. 

When councillors first began selling off the family silver, and turning their beady eyes to the council owned properties they could flog off, one of the first targets was the historic Church Farmhouse Museum, just yards around the corner from the Town Hall, and the Library. It was the only local authority owned museum of local history, and held a unique collection of historical artefacts, much of it donated by residents. The then Tory leader Richard Cornelius said this collection was 'worthless', and it was sold (for a tidy sum, as it turned out) at auction, while the listed building was put up for sale. But not all went to plan: no one wanted to buy the building, with all the listed features they would have to preserve: such a nuisance! So they tried leaving it empty for a few years, decaying, a perfect metaphor for their contempt for our local heritage, defiant in its refusal to comply with their would be procurement of its history. 

In desperation, they tried selling or leasing the property to Middlesex University, the usual customer in the marketplace of council properties in the Burroughs. Like any sole customer on whom the retailer depends, despite much pleading from the council, the Uni stuck out for a deal which was entirely beneficial to them, and a sorry bargain for the residents and taxpayers of Broken Barnet, robbed of a museum, and their heritage. 

The relationship between Barnet Council and Middlesex is very close, and often secretive. They have been awfully helpful and bailed out the council in one or two scrapes, not just in regard to the Museum: their involvement in the curious Saracens story is a crucial factor in propping up that very interesting loan of £22 million which Barnet officers brokered between the authority and the private rugby club, when it was refused commercial funding for the new stand they wanted to build - but which has still not appeared.

Middlesex Uni, in the course of its apparently unstoppable colonisation of the Burroughs, has taken over Hendon Town Hall, in all but name: the Tory councillors still cling to the council chamber and a couple of committee rooms, due to their primary reason for becoming councillors, that is to say, to pretend to be very important members of the community, jostling every year for a nomination to become Mayor, and the chance to be carried about the borough in a limousine, with the grateful populace bowing before them, and a never ending round of all you can eat buffets, at other people's expense.



The early days of Hendon Library: the 'Treasure House'

It was only a matter of time before the University got its foot in the door of Hendon Library, of course. During the massive programme of cuts that they pretended was a 'refurbishment', but which slashed the the service to shreds, in which millions of pounds were spent in order to - ha ha - 'save money', the 'reconfiguration' of Hendon Library was prioritised. The library functions were cut down to a tiny part of the footprint of its own building, and all that was left, in effect, were a few rows of bookshelves. The once outstanding children's library was gutted, and a useless, miniscule replacement shoved into a corner of the building, Eileen Colwell's legacy trashed and thrown in a skip, along with her vision of educating and empowering new generations of children through a love of reading. 

As a final insult, they put her photograph on a wall looking down at the two boxes of picture books and the couple of stacks of shelving that pass for the newly 'refurbished' children's 'library'. 

After the review's damning report was published, you might have hoped that the Tory councillors would have been shamed into some sort of plan to repair the damage they had done to the service. You would have been wrong to entertain such hopes. They feel no shame, and indeed are incapable of ever admitting they are wrong. They now decided, therefore, to double down on the same course of action, thinking they could push through the handover of Hendon Library to Middlesex Uni while the borough was in the grip of Covid, and not in a position to protest. 



Tory councillor Reuben Thompstone, cutter and shutter of Barnet Libraries, pic courtesy Times Series.

As you can read in this account in the local Times, Reuben Thompstone, the pantomime Tory member in charge of (cutting) libraries, informed a meeting on November 18th that 'moving' Hendon Library was an 'exciting opportunity'.  

In the now usual Barnet Tory tradition of take a decision first, then pretend to consult afterwards, they have already agreed to go ahead with the proposal to remove the Library from Hendon Library, and stuff a token replacement in a portacabin, in what they claim will be a temporary measure. Their scheme includes a vague plan to build something on what is now the tiny Town Hall car park, across the road, which they say would accommodate a small library and house an even bigger nuisance, the borough's Archives. 

The latter function, ie the preservation of council documents, is a statutory one, or you can bet your last penny that they would flog off anything of value they found in the Archives, delete the archivist's post, and restart the history of Broken Barnet from Year Zero, in a cultural revolution with no culture, no past, no future - and no responsibility for heritage. 

We do not know where these fragile and irreplaceable documents will be placed, during the 'temporary' decantation of the library into a portacabin. But before the retelling of horrible histories becomes forbidden, in Broken Barnet, let us remember what happened to the civic heritage collection, and the Grass Farm stained glass windows, left in the similarly emptied and abandoned Church End Finchley library. 

Capita was given charge of the safekeeping of all the civic heritage collection. They handed the items to a third party contractor, and, showing at least some regard for the art of ironic gestures, shoved everything in the derelict Finchley mortuary, a few yards across the road from where I live. (Later sold for development, of course). And then - guess what? The items were stolen, and/or destroyed. 

After we raised concerns about the Grass Farm windows, an irreplaceable piece of Finchley's history, taken from what was once the home of the family which included arts and crafts designer Ambrose Heal, and left to the local council, many years ago, it was admitted - after a lot of prevarication - that these too had been stolen, while supposedly in the safekeeping of live in guardians contracted by Capita. Were there any sanctions, or penalties for the loss of these objects? What do you think? 


The Grass Farm windows, stolen while in the keeping of council contractors

We have every reason to worry about what would happen, therefore, to the historic material currently in our local Archives, and it seems that questions raised by Labour councillors about this have not been adequately addressed.

Recent history tells us there is little likelihood of any permanent replacement being built for Hendon Library. We were assured, when Friern Barnet branch was closed, that a wonderful replacement library would be built in North Finchley. A temporary arrangement of shelves in a room in the Arts Depot was the only thing to come out of that - and then disappear.

The authority will simply not be in the position to afford to build any replacement, for the foreseeable future and eventually the 'library' portakabin will be run down and 'disappeared'.

Save Barnet Libraries campaigners have issued a statement (forming part of a letter published in the local press) on the proposal for a massive six-year £90m “Hendon Hub Redevelopment” to expand Middlesex University, and the removal of the library from the listed, purpose built building:

In October 2021, perhaps even before the first tranche of planning approvals, the library will be rehoused in “temporary” portacabins on the Burroughs Large Car Park near the A41.

Residents are meant to be happy about this, on the Council’s promise of a new library with “curbside appeal” in either Autumn/Winter 2023, or May 2024 – the date is vague. The description of the new library is also vague, promising to “facilitate the provision of a broader and enhanced library offer” that will attract more visitors, incorporate the borough’s archive and be “rent free in perpetuity”. This sounds very like the old Hendon Library which until 2017, was the most well-used branch in Barnet with over 233,000 visitors and 146,000 book loans per year. 

But, unfortunately, the proposals for the future library contain no guarantees at all: no capital budget, design or planning permission. Similarly, there is no commitment to increase staffed hours and library resources - which is what the service really needs to encourage library use. As the Council’s independent evaluation bluntly stated, the cuts to staffed hours have “gone too far”. 

These issues didn’t seem to matter to Cllr Thompstone or his colleagues on the Library Committee (CLCC) on 18 November. After all, they presided over the last decimation of the library service: in Hendon by spending £500k on reducing the library to 13% of its previous size, cutting staffed hours by 72% and leasing the building so that the library became a paying tenant. (One point of this was to make money from the building, but it’s unclear if it broke even, let alone made a profit.) By 2019-20, before Covid, book loans had reduced by half and the Council had stopped counting visitors.

In terms of the so-called “temporary” library, we are only told there will be reduced opening hours which will be, very unsatisfactorily, made up for by the mobile library. We are extremely concerned that the Council gives no consideration to the effect of the move and reduced service on library users, particularly as it appears almost inevitable that the development will overrun on time and costs, threatening the prospects of a new library at all.


They are right to be concerned, and right to articulate the fury that will be felt by many residents and users over the further assault on our library service. Funnily enough, one of the newer local Tory councillors, Nizza Fluss, has voiced strong objections to these proposals. So she should. 

I can’t see any reason to leave this Grade II-listed building ... I do see why Middlesex want to acquire it, but I can’t see how it will benefit Barnet residents or the residents of Hendon.”

Quite.

She is somewhat naive, and an inexperienced member of the Barnet Tory group and will be ignored, of course, by her colleagues, if she continues to object, and told to vote in line with the party's position. 

Well: if you live in Hendon, or use the library, you might like to write to your MP, Matthew Offord, and remind him of his former pledge to keep all libraries in his constituency open. He claimed, during an earlier Libraries nonsultation, that Unison was to blame for 'scaremongering' in repeating fears about library closures. Of course: blaming a union for telling the truth is the usual fall back for Tories trying to deflect attention from their assaults on our public services.

In the previous cull, library buildings were retained, but with their function as libraries reduced to a small fraction of the footprint of the building, to aid the Tories' assertion that they have closed no branches. The pretence was that the rest of the buildings would be used to generate income. This was nonsense: an excuse to justify the absurd expenditure of £14 million pounds of taxpayers' money, in truth not to make 'savings' (which of course have never made, other than in terms of sacking staff) - but for preparing the next stage in their long term development plans. 

In practice, the Barnet Tory decimation of the library service, the replacement of staffed hours with self service entry - and the massive reduction of the book stock - was far worse, and has had a profound impact, leaving many people with effectively very little or no access to the service.  The longer term effect in terms of the educational and literacy standards of less advantaged children and students, of course, will be equally damaging.

The closure of Hendon Library will have a further, hugely detrimental impact on residents, particularly, as in the case of Golders Green Library, for the families of the local Charedi community. As always with Barnet Tory cuts, however, the consequences for children, the elderly and vulnerable matter not at all, when development or business interests are at stake. 

Oh, and if they get away with shutting the flagship library, you can be sure other valuable library buildings will follow.

Libraries are more than just an easy target for Barnet Tory cuts: they carry a symbolic role in the group's ritualised, instinctive loathing of the very concept of public services, free at the point of use. Although unthinking in their attitudes and half formed beliefs, they naturally object to what is to them a mystifying concept: community, care for others, culture; the love of reading and the acquisition of knowledge, for its own sake, or the importance of social hubs to address issues of exclusion, or loneliness. They see only an unnecessary burden, and a duty they refuse to acknowledge, a cost they do not want to pay. Their emotional distance stands on the same place as every tedious, extreme right wing administration, perfectly demonstrated by the rise of Trumpism (admired by some local Tory members) or the Johnsonian shambles that passes for government in the UK. It is from a heart as hard as flint, and as cold as ice: why should I do anything for others? Only my self interest matters. 

Despite the smouldering contempt Barnet Tories feel for the local library service, with typical hypocrisy, once the Covid crisis was underway, this service, above almost all others, was considered so important that it was the last to close, before lockdown, leaving poorly supported staff - and users - dealing with an unknown situation, expected to carry on, while councillors's surgeries were cancelled. 

On the Saturday before Christmas, Johnson announced the introduction of Tier 4 and warned of an apparently more virulent mutation of the virus: within a short time of this deeply worrying announcement, far too quickly for any proper risk assessment to have been made of the increased risk to health, with all the unknown factors of higher and faster transmission, library staff were told to report to work as usual on Monday. "Click and collect" services continue, which they must administer. Many other library services have closed, of course, in other areas, by authorities with some sense of responsibility for their staff, and the public. But not in Barnet.

So which is it, Tory councillors? A library service of such little importance, that you can slash it to pieces, and leave poorly paid workers to struggle on, regardless, commended by your own consultants for their efforts to do so, in spite of the damage you had done? Or is it so vital that you must now, in the grip of an increasingly dangerous pandemic, merciless in its grip on this part of North London, force those workers to risk their lives, and that of their families, while you sit safely at home with your feet up, cancelling surgeries, holding a few safely Zoomed meetings, but refusing to put yourselves at any risk at all? 

When Hendon Library was opened in 1929, Lord Elgin made a speech, faithfully recorded in the local newspaper report: it was one which would have passed over the empty heads of the current crop of Tory councillors in the chamber of Hendon Town Hall. He observed:

Libraries (are) not mere store-houses of books. They must be centres of social and political life—political in its old and full sense of what pertained to the good of the community. A library should teach us not only that we had a neighbour. It should help us to understand that neighbour, to know his ideals and ambitions, and to know that he wanted to find the best way of making use of the talents with which he had been entrusted. A library service must be treated as the true life-blood of the population. It must the open gateway to all and sundry to knowledge and beauty.

Not content with ransacking the treasure house of Hendon Library, and no doubt leaving the golden key to be stolen with the rest of the civic collection, our philistine councillors are happy to throw the spare key to the building over to their friends at Middlesex University, and reverse the march of progress begun by their predecessors. 

There is no excuse for this. The events of the last year have proved more than ever that the public library service is a vital, fundamental resource for all communities, never more so than in difficult times, and not least for those without means, the 'poor' people that Mr Widmark recognised, even in the 1920s, who deserve access to reading, and information, just as much as those with wealth and privilege.

Just as Barnet Tory councillors care nothing for those without access to books, computers or smart phones, they care even less for Lord Elgin's vision of 'the good of the community'. They do not recognise the idea of caring for one's neighbour, and supporting him or her in their aspirations, or needs. 

And it is fair to say that the paternalistic but caring Conservative councillors of the 1920s would not recognise their supplanters in the chamber of Hendon Town Hall, who are intent on destroying their legacy of philanthropy, and practical help. 

Hendon's 'Treasure House', of course, is the perfect place to start the next phase of their war on libraries: where better than the former central library, that once meant so much to so many people? 

A gateway to knowledge is a dangerous thing, in Broken Barnet: a portal to a world of differing opinions, and the possibility of change. No wonder they cannot wait to shut it down.