Last month I wrote about the importance of Libraries to local communities. You can see that article HERE.
I'm sure that everyone in Brentwood and Essex will be aware of the battles fought by library campaigners across the County when the Conservatives threatened the Library service back in 2018/19. In Shenfield the story has, in some respects, moved on significantly. There is a planning application, welcomed in theory, lodged for the redevelopment of the Shenfield Library site to include a library service. Where we haven't moved on from is the long-term future of a library service in Shenfield. Whilst there is shown a library in the plans there is nothing in writing stating that there will be a library service in Shenfield after the new building opens from 2024 onwards.
There are also some very specific issues with the designs themselves. Firstly, there is no parking for blue badge holders. Yes folks you did read that correctly, a local authority in 2021 has allowed a planning application to be lodged for a public service building that is essentially inaccessible for people with disabilities. Whilst forward thinking organisations are designing to be fully accessible looking at putting infrastructure in to support the rapid switch to electric vehicles amongst other such necessary interventions, Shenfield library can't even offer a parking space for a disabled person. Think about that for a moment. That is against every public service ethos. If the public sector can't design its own buildings and services to be accessible, then we really have no chance of getting equality in our society.
Secondly very reasonable concerns around equipment needed to maximise the use of space seem to have been ignored. Space to store chairs as a most obvious example. Will keeping chairs off site encourage maximum use of the space? Of course, it won't. There is significant investment happening and that investment is welcome, but it is beholden on anyone spending taxpayers' money that all efforts are made to ensure maximum value for money is achieved. Getting the very best for the space and taking full advantage of the facility use is the way to maximise that value for money criteria. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those individuals that come together and formed groups like the Shenfield Library Users Group to fight for the services they believe in, the services they have paid for through taxes. But it really should not be like this. Fighting a battle like this is draining, it is tiring and it's all so unnecessary. It is shameful that greater clarity has not been provided three years after this all first came to light.
Brentwood Liberal Democrats call on Conservatives in Brentwood and Essex to come out and guarantee a long term future for a properly managed and accessible library service, staffed by professional librarians that has all the facilities that the community needs to make maximum use of the building. Secondly, we call on the Conservative administrations to properly consult and work with the Shenfield Library Users Group to define those requirements and work with them to find solutions that will maximise the use of the building. It is by maximising the opportunities for use that true value for money will come from this investment.
Brentwood Liberal Democrats will fight to save all libraries in the borough.
Have your say. The planning application, reference CC/BRW/30/21, can be viewed HERE:
Gary MacDonnell is Chair of Brentwood Liberal Democrats and our candidate for the 2021 Borough Council election for Shenfield Ward. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org