With cuts by the Conservative Government of over 40% to our local services, it is clear that like many other councils, Brighton and Hove cannot continue to run its current network of libraries as they are.
Rather than close or privatise them as some councils have, we proposed moving Hove library to a new, purpose built extension at Hove museum. The Carnegie building, where the library currently operates, is by far the most expensive library building to run. It is also an unsafe working environment for library staff.
By moving the library just 300 metres along the road, closer to most Hove library users, we could add a cafe and outdoor space to what is currently offered, and run a library service at a fraction of the cost. Crucially, that would free up enough money each year to keep all of our branch libraries across the city open, and indeed extend opening hours where they have been cut.
Branch libraries are at the heart of our plan for community hubs in every neighbourhood. It is a sensible and innovative plan that has been backed by a majority of the public in two consultation exercises, and supported by full Council within the Libraries Plan.
Behind the scenes, we have been talking to an art house cinema chain about buying the building, and returning a cinema to Hove, one of the homes of early film-making, for the first time in forty years.
All the time the sale of the Carnegie building has been under discussion, this has had to remain confidential. We did however tell the Conservative leadership.
The Conservative Group on the council have been split, with some backing the move, and others, led by the would-be parliamentary candidate Robert Nemeth, opposing. They asked for more time, and more information, plus a further building survey costing the council £8,000. All of this was given, with the survey being delivered in a tight timescale, over a dozen further reports and a month of discussions.
Yet despite a thorough and sound business plan, they are still threatening to oppose the move of Hove library, simply to inflict a political defeat on the Labour Administration, in alliance with the Greens.
It won’t be the first time the Greens and Tories have joined up, having forced through the taxpayer loan for the i360 last year.
I’ve said very recently that I will always work to find a consensus in the best interests of the city and its residents. It is what people expect us to do.
Officers have made very clear in the Libraries Plan and subsequent reports to committee that the necessary alternative course of action if the Carnegie was to remain open would be to close many of our branch libraries in Saltdean, Rottingdean, Hangleton, Patcham, Westdene, Woodingdean, Mile Oak, Moulsecoomb, Coldean, Hollingbury, Portslade and Whitehawk. Our innovative plan has been designed to prevent that, I still want to prevent that and we will continue to try to work with the Conservatives and Green councilors to prevent that.
It is a very worrying time for this city and our valued libraries. It shows a real lack of civic responsibility on the part of the Greens, who we expect to act like this, but also on the part of Tories like Robert Nemeth, putting his own personal ambitions above what is right for Brighton and Hove. I’d hoped for stronger leadership from Tory leader Geoffrey Theobald, who has always said he would support innovation and creativity in providing public services.
I’m very disappointed that it has come to this with the future of libraries across the city being placed at significant risk.
The Conservatives will decide on Monday whether to back our libraries solution, keeping all our libraries open including an improved service in Hove, or to back the Greens protesting over an ageing building that isn’t fit for purpose and which costs so much to run that it threatens the future of more than half our community libraries across Brighton and Hove.
If you support our libraries plan and want to ensure the future of libraries across the city, e-mail the Conservative Group Leader: Geoffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org