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HomeNewsCouncillors leave cabinet meeting after public outrage at Uxbridge Library move

Councillors leave cabinet meeting after public outrage at Uxbridge Library move

Hillingdon’s most senior councillors were forced to flee a cabinet meeting last night (February 15) after a furious reaction from residents over their decision to move Uxbridge Library.

Many of those who sat in the packed public gallery to see Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services Cllr Ed Lavery lay out the council’s plan as well as the reasons for the move, had come straight from a protest against the proposal outside the civic centre.

The council says that concerns to do with costs, accessibility and carbon output were all factors in the current library’s move away from its spot on the High Street. Currently housed in a purpose-built six-floor building, the council has said that because there are no fire evacuation lifts it can be particularly difficult for people with disabilities to safely evacuate.

The relocated library is expected to save the council £412,000 per year from business rates, utilities, cleaning and staffing costs, and will deliver better value for money to residents, says Cllr Lavery. The move from the High Street to the Middlesex Suite in the Civic Centre would save 165 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, reads the council’s report.

Councillors leave cabinet meeting after public outrage at Uxbridge Library move Harrow Online
Images from inside Hillingdon cabinet\’s meeting on Uxbridge Library. Permission for use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Rory Bennett

Despite this, the council’s plan has been deeply unpopular with some residents, with protests and demonstrations taking place to block the move over the weeks leading up to the cabinet meeting. Residents have said that the reasons the council has given don’t stack up, opposition politicians have called the proposal ‘ludicrous’ and local library users have expressed disappointment.

The councillors present at the meeting, including leader Ian Edwards, seemed all too aware of the anger of those sitting in the audience. At one stage during Cllr Lavery’s speech, he mentioned that users of the library had been contacted by email about the move, which was met with indignation by many in the crowd.

Indignation turned to fury when the decision was handed down – the library would move to the Civic Centre. The crowd interrupted into a cacophony of heckling.

Chants of ‘shame on you’ could be heard rippling through the audience and as the leader attempted to bring order to proceedings, the fury only grew. The berated panel were forced to leave the chamber until order had been restored.

Residents like Paul Hanscombe told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the issue of Uxbridge Library has galvanised the community in Hillingdon. He said: “I have lived in Uxbridge for 50 years and I have never seen people so united as they are for the preservation of the library. I took around a petition and met over 100 people. None said they thought the library move would be a benefit. They freely signed. Several didn’t know about the move because the council have not publicised it.”

Making up the ranks of protests and viewers were regular library users such as Robert Jones, who uses it every week. “It has a great local history area, an exhibition area which is fantastic and it’s a brilliant place for young people to gather to do their academic work,” he said.

“It was only renovated 10 years ago and the atrium is a brilliant place for exhibitions, discussions, events and meeting groups. I’m a theatre director and we brought drama to the library and stories of local history. There is nowhere in [the Middlesex Suite] to perform. I feel very passionately that it should not be closed and moved up the road which is an awful place, to be honest, the access is not good.”

He added that the current library is ‘a community space and it is right in the heart of Uxbridge which is suffering terribly from businesses closing’.

Robert says he is ‘very very disappointed’ by the decision which he says will lead to a reduced service. Indeed many people who spoke to LDRS about the change found it hard to see how the council could keep a central promise within the proposal ‘to deliver services equal to or better than at the existing site’.

Josie Mitchell and Ilene Smyth were both senior members of the library service before they retired. They oppose the move and think the claims made by the council are disingenuous. “It is a huge reduction in services,” Ilene said. “There are two other large libraries in the borough, Uxbridge Library handles more than twice the number of people so reducing it down to the same size as them is ridiculous.”

Part of the council’s case is that 37 per cent of library stock has not been checked out in two years justifying a reduction in its catalogue. However, Josie disagrees citing an idiom that might be familiar to librarians.

“You know what they say about dead stock, there is no such thing as dead stock, just bad stock management.” As far as Josie is concerned the current location of the library makes it ‘a perfect community hub’.

Councillors leave cabinet meeting after public outrage at Uxbridge Library move Harrow Online
Protest outside Civic Centre against moving Uxbridge Library. Permission for use by all LDRS partners. Credit: Rory Bennett

Ilene was quizzical of the council’s justifications for the move saying: “A lot of their arguments were inaccurate. The reasons they have given on disability and health and safety are rubbish because they are more or less saying that any building more than one storey isn’t safe.

She doesn’t believe that the Civic Centre would be any more accessible to disabled people than the current set up. “The ramp [for the Middlesex Suite] has no lighting at night and it’s quite a steep ramp I’m not sure people in a self-propelled wheelchair could get up it.”

The pair said they were not surprised by the anger on display from residents inside the meeting in light of the decision and the way it was brought about. However, both vowed that the vote would not be the end of it with the council still requiring planning permission and legal challenges possibly being on the horizon.

This is a cause that Hillingdon Labour Leader Peter Curling says he is more than happy to take up. Speaking to LDRS at the protest before the meeting he said that he would fight the move.

“We will continue to support the residents in fighting this decision. If the decision does go against us tonight, which is fairly likely, the fight continues and we will do what we can to support the residents.”