Mar 9 2011 By Tara Brady
CAMPAIGNERS are preparing to mount legal action against Brent Council over plans to close six libraries.
The local authority set its budget on February 28 on the basis that savings would be made by shutting libraries - despite the consultation period not ending until March 4.
Residents believe the consultation was "deeply flawed", "unlawful" and "maladministrative" and have written a letter to the council's legal department calling for the plans to be abandoned.
The letter, sent on Friday (Mar 4), also accuses the council of issuing inaccurate figures about the number of visits to each of the reading rooms.
The libraries threatened with closure are Barham, Preston, Neasden, Tokyngton, Cricklewood and Kensal Rise.
Samantha Warrington, who uses Preston Library, said: "The data in the consultation misrepresents library usage and costs to make the libraries that the council wants to close look like they are underused. The numbers of users for Willesden Green are grossly exaggerated. Harlesden is
estimated. Preston figures were not rounded up to reflect a closure period when the self-service machines were fitted.
"The Town Hall includes people visiting the Town Hall for meetings and workers going in and out. Kingsbury includes people using public toilet."
Margaret Bailey, co-chair of the Friends of Kensal Rise Library group, said: "Information about the number of visits to each library is inaccurate.
Information about library usage is presented misleadingly as it does not take into account different opening hours. The budget decision has also made the consultation process redundant."
Graham Durham, secretary of the Save Cricklewood Library campaign, received an email this week from head of libraries, Sue McKenzie, admitting there was an error in the figures regarding the number of visits to Kingsbury Library which was rounded down from 205,283 to 205,000.
Campaigners are also concerned that the figures have been distorted because some buildings, like Willesden Green Library Centre, offer other services.
Mr Durham said: "It is appalling that the council has only acknowledged their error this week, after the public consultation has ended. Now the council has voted to close the libraries and closed the consultation, it has agreed that the figure quoted for Kingsbury was wrong."
Simon Gurevitz, who uses Preston Library, said: "The consultation process is deeply flawed both as regards process and content. The data has a number of errors and the budget decision was also taken before the consultation period ended. The council consultation documents talk about meeting the needs of the people.
“But it is determined to implement a top-down decision taken without asking any people what their needs are."
The council says it is confident the consultation has been carried out lawfully. A spokeswoman said: "The Kingsbury Library figures were rounded down while the Harlesden figures were based on performance since April 2010 because the library was closed for refurbishment for 20 months. The visitors are counted by an electronic people counter at the library entrance.
"At Willesden Green this is at the entrance to the actual library rather than the whole centre and this has been made clear on numerous occasions in public meetings and in correspondence.
"The council conducted a detailed and extensive public consultation process which was heavily publicised and we are confident meets legal requirements."
Last Thursday (Mar 3), Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, told the Observer that London Councils, a lobbying organisation that promotes the interests of London's councils, is considering creating a trust to run libraries. He said: "I love libraries and I want to keep the libraries we have. We are looking at starting up a trust that could protect libraries and I know this is something that London Councils has been looking at. But closing libraries is down to local authorities and it's proving hard to change their minds.”
The campaign continues with a read-in at Barham Library on Saturday, March 19, from 11am.