Despite fierce local opposition including a petition which attracted more than 4,500 signatures in just three weeks, Bromley Council has voted in favour of pushing forward with plans to replace the current Beckenham Library with new housing and moving the library facility to Beckenham Halls.
Following the decision, which was made at a council Executive meeting on November 27, Labour councillor for Clock House ward, Vanessa Allen, said: “Bromley Tories should have been maintaining both the Library and the Public Halls properly out of their extensive reserves. Instead they have neglected both and are now proposing to sell the library site to make up for their own negligence.
“The West Wickham Leisure Centre and Library project is being part funded by £993,000 from ‘earmarked reserves’. Why has Beckenham’s got to be funded by the demolition of a heritage asset?”
Bromley Council estimate that 46 housing units could be accommodated on the current library site with “no net loss of the surrounding green space” and it is anticipated that the development would consist of 50% affordable housing. However, it is unclear whether there will be any social housing made available as part of the move.
Early estimations by council officers also indicate the value of the existing Beckenham Library site for housing is approximately £2million (if 50% of the units are affordable) which the council say would offset the £2million expected cost of restoring and fitting out a new library at Beckenham Public Hall.
One resident who signed the petition said: “I use the library regularly and have done for 35 years. Being next to the Spa it is ideal to combine a visit after a swim with children, or without. It is always good to keep community facilities near to each other.”
Another added: “The public space around the library, Spa and Venue 28 is unique and special, enjoyed and used by so many of us. Let’s not allow the council to sell off another public building for short term gain, which will result in a permanent loss for our community and future generations.”
However, some residents are more welcoming of the move, including one who commented on social media: “It makes more sense to have the library so close to Beckenham High Street and hopefully used by more people”.
The council say that the Beckenham Public Hall is “spacious, tired and underutilised” and that investment is needed to renew the building’s infrastructure and restore its features. A condition survey of the hall undertaken in 2014 identified backlog maintenance of around £400,000 which would need to be addressed as part of the plans.
The council say that in 2018/19 Beckenham Library received 127,514 visits and it estimates that the new venue will attract 150,000 visit each year. News in Beckenham has approached Bromley Council to learn how these figures have been calculated. Beckenham Library also ranked third in terms of library visitors out of Bromley’s 14 libraries last year.
Beckenham Public Hall has two large halls in addition to other rooms. The council plans would see one hall become a dedicated library space alongside other rooms in the building. The second hall would be retained as an events space.
Conservative Copers Cope ward councillor, Michael Tickner, told News in Beckenham: “This would be more convenient for shoppers and town centre visitors, but a little less convenient for some library users.
“Bromley has a good record of protecting and upgrading its libraries. When Orpington Library was moved from The Priory to the town centre, visitors and book use increased dramatically. Another driver of this initiative is the need for more housing. By combining the Public Hall with the library in one listed building, the present library site can be used for new homes.”
The existing Beckenham Library was built in 1939 and some residents have expressed concerns about moving the facility to what they say is a smaller and more inferior location.
The petition, which was set up by local Labour councillor, Ian Dunn, can be viewed here: https://www.change.org/p/bromley-council-save-beckenham-library
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