This week’s council elections offer a once-every-four-years chance to vote for the services you want to keep or get back. And in my part of Walthamstow, the one we miss most is St James Street Library.
It was closed in 2007, without the legally required consultation or impact assessments. And that was just part of Waltham Forest's "Cultural Cull", in which councillors cut funding to libraries, museums, theatre, evening classes and much more -- but awarded themselves a pay rise totalling £230,000.
St James Street Library Campaign, which questioned local council candidates, is now urging supporters to vote for those most likely to reopen the Coppermill Lane building as a library or community centre.
The Labour group is most determined to get rid of our assets. Last year, they tried to turn the library into a drug centre. Now, though they say they would consider proposals for reopening the building, they are more likely to sell it to developers. That would mean yet more flats crammed into in this overcrowded area. And it would kill off any chance of bringing St James Street Library back into use as a much-needed community facility.
What of the other candidates?
Mike Gold (no party) and the Green candidates pledge to make every effort to reopen the library. They are long-time supporters of local campaigns.
The Conservatives support reopening the library, and have put £20,000 for a feasibility study in their alternative budget. They have held this position for several years.
Although the Lib Dem group voted with Labour to close St James Street Library in the first place, they now recognize this was a mistake. They say “we would like to see the former Library being used as a community facility” and would “support a community-led voluntary-sector project to take control of the management of the building”. Cllr James O’Rourke (Lib Dem) helped St James Street Library Campaign get started.
The council’s plan to turn the library into a drug centre was so demented that all current High Street councillors backed St James Street Library Campaign in opposing it. Apart from that, the campaign has had little help from local councillors, until just before the election.
“Better late than never,” say the campaigners, stressing that they will be happy to work with anyone who supports their aims of reopening the building as a library or community centre.
Among candidates for parliament, the only one who has solidly supported St James Street Library Campaign is Nancy Taaffe (Socialist), who is a library worker herself. Stella Creasy (Labour) has campaigned for other library services in the borough.