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Tuesday, 29 November 2016 17:12

Can planning objections save Chipping Barnet Library?

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Residents and library users have until Thursday 15 December to register their objections Residents and library users have until Thursday 15 December to register their objections
If residents are prepared to back a mass campaign of objection, the Barnet Society believes there might still be a chance to limit, if not prevent, the downgrading of Chipping Barnet Library.

In addition to having to switch to largely self-service operation, the library is also to undergo extensive interior reconstruction so that an extensive area inside the building can be converted into lettable office space.

The library is due to shut its doors on Monday 5 December for a two-month temporary closure.

BUT Barnet Council has not even obtained the necessary planning permission for a significant change of use.

Residents and library users are now being informed they have until Thursday 15 December to register their objections.

During the forthcoming two-month closure, the existing library floor area is to be reconfigured for self-service operation in preparation for conversion to office space, and the council says these internal changes do not need planning permission.

BUT documents posted on the council’s planning website admit that the library floor is a community space and that its conversion to office space will only be “acceptable in exceptional circumstances.”

New office space is to be created within the library by reducing the existing library floor space by 116 square metres, and by inserting a new mezzanine floor in the large community hall – the Hyde Room – to provide an additional 104 square metres of office space.

This new office accommodation – capable of providing room for up to 28 employees – will then rented out commercially.

The new office accommodation will be rented out commercially

The offices will have access through the existing rear staff entrance, and employees will have allocated spaces in the rear car park.

The council says the exterior alterations that are subject to planning permission – such as a new side-entrance for self-service users and a new window for the office space – would be carried out during a further closure during July and August 2017.

Two other steps have been taken by the Society to back up its campaign to try to force the council hold another public meeting and extend the period for consultation with residents and library users:

  • To demonstrate the depth of local anger, the Barnet Society plans to stage a peaceful mass read-in outside Chipping Barnet Library at 11 am on Monday 5 December – the day the library shuts its doors for a two-month temporary closure. Please come along with a book and show your support.
  • The society’s secretary Jonathan Supran has prepared a list of 12 questions that need an immediate answer regarding the Chipping Barnet Library as well as other libraries in the borough. Obtaining a prompt response, and full and detailed answers to these questions is essential if people are to come to an informed opinion as to the council’s library re-organisation. The information leading to these questions has largely come to light very recently and therefore was impossible to raise in previous consultations. 
    (See link to attachment 'Questions' at bottom of article)

The planning document for the Chipping Barnet Library says the rental income from letting office space, together with the reduction in staff hours following the introduction of self-service operation, will “help ensure” that all 14 libraries in the London Borough of Barnet remain open to residents.

There is no demand for continued community or education use

The council justifies the loss of 116 square metres of library floor space on the grounds that “there is no demand for continued community or education use” – an assertion that the Society believes cannot be justified and provides a legitimate reason for an objection.

Objections can be registered on the Barnet Council website. Follow the link below, hit the button for “view, track and comment on planning applications” and then insert the planning application reference 16/7415/FUL

The council finally conceded on Thursday 24 November that it lacked the necessary planning permission for the library’s change of use, yet the council had already announced that the library is being closed to the public as from Monday 5 December and is not due to re-open, in a reduced capacity, until Monday 6 February 2017.

The Barnet Society believes that the loss of 116 square metres of library space is a legitimate reason to object because this would result in the loss of a community facility for Chipping Barnet.

Objections must be registered on the council’s website by December 15 and applications to speak at a planning committee meeting expected to take place in January 2017 must be received by December 22.

If the council began work reducing the library floor space during the two-month closure period without having gained permission, the society believes there might be grounds to seek an enforcement notice.

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