Submission to the Executive for 7th November 2005
The Friends of Carnegie Library, Herne Hill
Obtaining by Deception Government Office for London Consent for Building Alterations
Any owner of a Listed Building is legally obliged to follow
to the letter the regulations and procedures attached to this responsibility.
A public authority
has the additional duty to set an example in the way it alters such a property,
the emphasis being to correct past misdeeds and certainly not to destroy any
features of heritage value. The drip, drip of "improvements" in the
name of modernization over many years can erode the ability of a building even
to retain sufficient quality to be Listed.
A common technique a private owner may use to push though unsympathetic alterations is to claim "there is no alternative" to his plans because of the practicalities of the proposed use and even that he should be thanked for finding a solution "that ensures the continual survival of the building". Weak conservation authorities are thus coerced into accepting the hiding, storage or even permanent destruction of valuable architectural features on the basis that no alternative plan has been shown to them.
The Friends of Carnegie Library took the trouble to alert the Council as long ago as 12th October 2004, that there is an alternative to the way in which it proposed to house the mobile and housebound services within the Carnegie Library building.
This alternative, as we pointed out to you in our Submission of 13th June 2005, has the benefit of saving and revealing precious architectural features as well as accommodating these services more logically. Furthermore it promised the prospect of providing more desperately needed books for local borrowers. All this was at a huge saving to the taxpayer. Another bonus was that it could put what is London's largest large-print book collection on open public shelves.
We alerted you in that Submission ("Offence" 5) that an attempt had been made by the Libraries Administration and their consultants to mislead your Conservation Officer, the Government Office for London and English Heritage. They had failed to reveal in the plans they submitted their intention to turn one of the three major public rooms on the principal floor, the original Newspaper Reading Room, into an "industrial space" for the Goods Dispatch Department with a storage area.
It was with great relief that some weeks later we learned that this potentially philistine, not to mention illegal, act, had been stopped by your Conservation Officer. No doubt this was thanks to your drawing our June Submission to the attention of the Head of Libraries. (And we still await her comments on all the points raised in that document which the Deputy Leader assured us would be forthcoming!)
Naturally, we assumed that at last those responsible would be forced to have a complete re-think and might even be grateful that this "unforeseeable" matter would result in a design of some integrity. The Friends would not need to embarrass them by providing the design for a basement storeroom!
[We were surprised that such a re-think had not already taken place following your ruling (determined at the Leaders' Meeting following the June Executive) that the temporary halt on the punching through of a doorway from the tiled stairwell landing should be permanent. The loss of permission for this "essential" access made the proposed plan even more perverse and unworkable.]
But no! No re-think occurred. The original ill-conceived "design" for this Grade II Listed Building was to receive yet another ad hoc modification (at least the fifth) in response to the "discovery" of a perfectly foreseeable matter.
We now regret to inform you that this has only gained consent because, for the second time, the Libraries Administration and their consultants have misled your Conservation Officer, the Government Office for London and English Heritage!
This time, the information withheld was that there is an alternative arrangement that causes no damage to the integrity of the hundred-year-old parquet floor. Withholding this fact is surely just as deceptive as before, when incomplete plans were submitted. It would still result in a Listed Building whose architectural merit has been diminished when it could so easily have been enhanced.
We hope, at this eleventh hour, you can prevent this disgrace to the heritage and integrity of Lambeth.
Submission to the Executive for 13th June 2005
The Friends of Carnegie Library, Herne Hill
The Carnegie Library "Improvements"
The Library Service and their consultants have proposed a quite perverse plan for the internal layout of the Carnegie Library Building to accommodate the mobile and housebound services:
1 It will cost the
Council around £100,000
more than is necessary.
2 It is not a wise investment for many aspects of the long-term development of the Service.
3 It fails to complement the Library-proper to enable expansion in line with Policy and promises.
4 It needlessly perpetrates cultural vandalism on a Listed Building instead of reversing past misdeeds.
5 It gained English Heritage Consent by withholding information and so is open to legal challenge.
We are most grateful for the temporary halt put on two aspects of the project,
(a) the destruction of the original tiled wall on a stairwell landing to make a doorway;
(b) the expenditure of £110,000 on unnecessary rolling book-stacks.
We now respectfully request that the Executive:
1 extends this stay of execution while the Friends are given permission and time to obtain, at their own expense, a second opinion on the cost of storage of the Joint Fiction Reserve stock
2 add temporary halts on:
(c) any further damage to, or loss of, the parquet floor of the Newspaper Reading Room
(d) the construction of any partitions in this room
so that the plan can be modified to prevent the above five offences.
We cannot say how grateful we are for the large sums of money you have voted
not only to the Carnegie, but to rescue and now expand the whole of the Library
Service. Your Deputy Leader has been particularly attentive to our plight since
1999 when your predecessors were determined to close our Library down. Those
predecessors were eager to claim credit for spending (public) money but we
know that you will deserve credit for the results of such spending, not for
the spending itself!
To this end we think it was wise as well as kind of you to involve the Friends groups in discussing options for improvement at each library. For decades we have had to watch the results of decisions made with little regard for the library user or the taxpayer: from the scrapping of valuable books to the reduction of shelf-space to make way for questionable administrative functions and non-library-related activities. We are therefore well placed to scrutinize local spending to best effect.
However, we found "consultation" still living in quotation marks: when we finally found out what was planned for the Carnegie, our suggestions were met with constructive dismissal. The main reason management gave is that any change in the project would lead to increased costs and delays. We insist that our proposal would actually reduce costs and, as the most-concerned users, we are quite happy to wait a little longer for an improved, undamaged library.
1 The current plan will cost the Council around £100,000 more than is necessary.
It is for the consultants and those who wrote their terms of reference to explain the process by which the present plan was reached. But it commenced with a "knapsack packing" problem involving just two rooms: the imposing former Newspaper Reading Room on the Principal Floor; and, on the floor below, the room used for many years as the Library Service's Goods Dispatch Department, next to the side door to the building.
Then, perhaps because the consultants had sinned against the whole-building approach they had once espoused, a bolt of lightening intervened to bring into their deliberations a third room, on the floor above: the former Lecture Theatre. Unfortunately, divine forces failed to draw their attention to other parts of the building. It required us to point out a huge resource for book storage in the basement undercroft. We also think that an office-space audit for the whole building will help the Service use this asset more effectively.
Whatever the excuse, the end result of this "design" process was to advise the people of Lambeth to invest £110,000 in ingenious contraptions known as "rolling stacks" (an example of which can be seen in Brixton Reference Library). Their purpose is to compress bookshelves into about 40% of the floor area normally required, but they do not give safe access to more than one person at a time certainly not the public.
The knapsack was packed, but at what a cost and not just to your exchequer! Serious damage to the fabric of this listed building was threatened and any hope of restoring our book-stock rapidly to its pre-1999 level was lost for the foreseeable future. This would have been at no extra cost at all, as we simply wanted to share all the mobile books already coming into the building.
2 The plan is not a wise investment for the long-term development of the
We have pointed out that if a more integrated approach had been taken in the first place, chance events need not have played any part in the design of the plan. Such an approach in the Library Service itself, with some attempt to predict future developments, could also prevent wasted expenditure.
The welcome return of libraries in Clapham Park and Streatham Vale will complete the coverage of Lambeth by fixed libraries so there will be little need for the essentially rural solution of mobile libraries. In the past two years, both Merton and Wandsworth have done away with their mobile libraries which are becoming a rarity in London. So heavy investment in infrastructure for this service might be unwise.
While some of our schools do not have adequate libraries, a schools book-bus may be useful and a housebound service will always be needed. But these would surely be run better from collections stored on ordinary open shelves where it would be easier for staff to find what is required and what is lacking.
Even the need for some of the functions of Bibliographic Services has been questioned recently by experts. This development should be considered before further office space is built in the Carnegie.
For these reasons, public money should not be spent on "white elephants" like three new purpose-built rolling stacks (particularly when Lambeth is going to scrap one it already owns at South Island Place).
The minor "time and motion" points made by management are hardly worth countering as:
(a) they pit Dispatch against Community Services: one department's gain being the other's loss;
(b) it is surely just as much use to tell marines as councillors that it is easier and quicker to select books from rolling stacks than from ordinary open shelves: only one person at a time can operate them and, without considerable unnecessary pre-planning, this one person will spend far more time seeking and opening the single access space than in removing and replacing books!
(c) even if there were some minor convenience for some staff, this would surely be outweighed by the benefit of tripling the choice of book for local readers for whom the service is supposed to be run!
3 The Plan fails to complement our Library to facilitate its expansion in
line with Policy and promises.
The Carnegie Library lies in a position commanding a catchment population of around 30,000 people. It should be prepared to cater for all of these. We do not accept the stock excuse used by some of those running failing library services who blame the locations of some of their libraries for having "low passing footfall". Any library with a half-decent book collection will attract a respectable number of users look at Dulwich Library! When a service relies on chance "passing trade" at those libraries near shops or a station but cannot attract even 20% of its residents elsewhere, it has certainly already failed.
We were disappointed to learn that the Carnegie was not to benefit explicitly yet from your Libraries Expansion Policy. We are sure that hardly any mention of books (let alone book numbers) in either the draft "Developing an Asset Strategy" or its Progress Report offered to you today, was not intended. We look forward to the final Strategy where we are sure the intention to increase the number of books in all your libraries (not just Streatham) will be expressed.
The only mention of books we did find (Asset Strategy, para 6.6.1; Progress Report, 5.6) was about a group cajoled into showing an interest in our libraries being permitted to spend LOF money on books. This was something the volunteer Friends were expressly told by the Head of Libraries they could not do. Knowing book-stock was the greatest shortcoming of the Service, we had argued that a well-chosen book, which could serve readers for a hundred years, could be regarded as a better "capital" item than an ephemeral piece of furniture from a library supplier's catalogue!
As an apparent concession, we have recently been told that our non-fiction books (only) may be restored to their pre-2002 number by sharing with Community Services. But this seems to be only because of a miscalculation by the consultants (Drawing 4833/13 claims there are 1300 metres of shelving but the rolling stacks in this smaller room only provide 924 metres). Thus they are forced to keep some of the CS books in our Central Room and, and we were told that we should be grateful that our Library was not going to be diminished! The 30,000 people in the catchment area will still have to share one book between four whereas the average in Lambeth is one book each (Lambeth is bottom in London where most boroughs have at least two per person). We feel sure that Lambeth's Library Policy will soon be more explicit about books/resident and are confident that the Executive will not support the Carnegie's being classed as a "small community library".
4 The plan perpetrates architectural vandalism on the building instead of
reversing past misdeeds.
[Paragraphs (a) to (i) are by our expert historic architecture advisor.]
(a) The proposals for the Newspaper Reading Room generally fail to bring back the architectural presence of the room. This is an example where an opportunity has been missed to positively improve on the architecture of the Library building. The proposals are clearly driven by the need to facilitate the operation of the Library Service paying little if any regard to the sensitivity of the building itself. Indeed, the consultant in propounding his view that without a service the result would be the demise of the building, displays profound naïveté not only towards an important historic building, but that is disparaging and disrespectful of the endeavours of the Friends and others who saved the building from closure in 2000 and who continue to see the best done for both the building and the service it provides.
(b) Punching through the opening from the Staircase Landing to the Newspaper Reading Room will result in the destruction of some original tiling in the stairwell. Assurances from the consultant that tiles can be carefully salvaged and stored for possible re-use is both spurious and lacking in credibility. Such loss is irreversible because salvage of sensitive finishes is untried and practically virtually impossible, and safe storage is not a particular forté of the Council. Reversal, when taken in the context of the substantial proposed alterations of the scheme is highly unlikely to take place. The loss of historic fabric is unjustified, particularly when it is clear that other feasible, reasonable and practically favourable options exist and which have not been properly explored by the consultant. Further discussion with the Conservation Officer has not taken place but it would be useful if the approach were unbiased (though I do not believe that is possible) and at least fair to all interested parties.
(c) There are no details of the new door and frame other than a note to match existing. This is insufficient to extend any comfort that the new work will be of suitable quality commensurate with that of the building.
(d) The high intensity activity occurring on the landing at the location of the new doorway is high risk, presenting a potential Health & Safety issue because it occurs at the top of the staircase directly adjacent to an unguarded drop. The purpose and use of this area is changed from one of circulation to active use and the pinch point is dangerous.
(e) The removal of the existing partition in the Newspaper Reading Room is welcomed. But then having achieved that, the installation of another full height partition is perverse. Any argument about compromise is inappropriate because removal of an unsympathetic and intrusive structure has not actually taken place if there is another like-structure replacing it.
5 It gained English Heritage Consent by withholding information and so is
open to legal challenge.
(f) The consultant and the Head of Libraries confidently inform us that all necessary consents have been obtained. However, on checking the application documentation at English Heritages offices, I am concerned to note that the lifting and replacement of the existing floor covering in the Newspaper Reading Room that has taken place (purportedly to strengthen the floor to take the rolling book stack system) does not appear on any of the application documentation. Listed Building Consent for certain works described on the drawings submitted with the application has been granted, but it seems, not for any works of removal of existing floor coverings and their replacement or for floor strengthening. This work is, therefore, unauthorized and illegal.
(g) Reference is made to the form of consultation, which for inexplicable reasons appears to have sidestepped the democratic process at a crucial juncture. For the record, there have been 11 objections from individuals in addition to that of the local amenity society. It is noted that despite the consultants assertion that the scheme has the support of English Heritage, this is not so. English Heritage sought to remove the blatant elements of the proposals that were unsatisfactory based on the information provided. But to say that because the statutory bodies have been involved dismisses everyone elses views is inappropriate and arrogant.
(h) I would refer to the Condition Survey prepared by Playle & Partners and to my comments thereon, in particular to the numerous references to a Master Plan that will be used to inform any physical works to the Library and to its working operation. This is a commendable recommendation, but it has not been taken up and the result is changes that are ad hoc, out of context, and not necessarily in the interests of the buildings intrinsic historic nature.
(i) There are other matters relating to the physical fabric of the building that are of concern, which were not discussed at the meeting on 1st June 2005.
6 Our Suggestions:
It was left to the Friends to take an overview of the situation in the whole building, the nearest anyone has got to the "Master Plan" recommended by the consultants in their own Condition Survey. We realized that the whole problem hinged on what to do with the "Joint Fiction Reserve" stock of some 20,000 books by authors from the narrow section of the alphabet that Lambeth holds in a mutual scheme with other boroughs. This collection is somewhat fossilized, few books having been added since 1980, withdrawals nearly as rare. The Friends fully support this scheme, feeling that this function of a library, to simply store valued books however infrequently borrowed, is forgotten in the public shelves. However, we recognize that what was meant by Andrew Carnegie to be a principal, publicly accessible room, should not be squandered on such a storage function (and certainly not as the Goods Dispatch Department!). We presumed that remote storage for the JFR (as we believe is done by some boroughs) has been explored and dismissed on revenue cost grounds.
If the JFR has to be kept in the Carnegie Library, there would seem to be far more appropriate quarters than the consultants have proposed, namely on ordinary shelves in the front-most 66 sq. metre, 2 metre-high part of the basement undercroft, suitably converted into a store-room.
The Friends of Carnegie Library are so confident that an arrangement of 6-shelf units with 30-inch gangways to provide 540 metres of shelf could be built, that we have already voted sufficient funds to provide the best professional survey if you will grant us permission. We just do not believe that such an installation, with full safety requirements (fire detectors, even sprinklers; and note it already possesses two door openings and is unlikely to require interference with foundation footings) could cost even as much as the rolling stack proposed instead (£70,000). And certainly nowhere near the consultant's recent hurried estimate which seemed to be constructed to dismiss discussion on the matter. The new storeroom would be a permanent asset to the Service unlike rolling stacks which have only a limited life. But of greatest advantage, it would free a large space in a principal room for possible public use.
So, along with removing the JFR from the rooms under consideration our proposal is:
that the Newspaper Reading Room be restored to its former glory without a suspended ceiling and with its original parquet floor re-laid and repaired (WITHOUT a damaging new door-opening being required!);
that the mobile and housebound stock be housed in this room on conventional open shelves with a view to parts of the collection initially (but eventually all) being made available to the local people to browse and borrow simple barriers or cordons being used to restrict public access to a diminishing part of the stock as it is gradually integrated with the very small current Carnegie stock (we see no problems with a comprehensive large-print public collection being based here for those readers throughout both boroughs who are poor-sighted but ambulatory who only have a menial choice in their local libraries at present);
that the Dispatch Department remains in its present room by the side door.
We also recommend that an office-space audit for the whole building be conducted and the result used to plan rational use of this asset. If the present approximately 12 staff working in the building (having a quite enormous office area) are to be expanded to 28, making better use of this area will fit them in without encroaching more than necessary into what should be public space. It could also encourage interaction between travelling and Carnegie library staff to their mutual professional benefit.
The Friends of Carnegie Library