Apr 18 2011 By James Cracknell
Libraries campaigner Samantha Warrington with her children.
BRENT Council agreed to close six libraries last week, declining the chance to extricate itself from one of the most contentious public service cuts seen anywhere in London.
The decision made by a rapid vote of the Labour executive was drowned out by shouts of 'shame on you' and 'resign' from the public gallery.
Several counter proposals to the closures of Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston Road and Tokyngton libraries were put forward, but all were dismissed by the lead member for environment, planning and culture, Councillor James Powney (Kensal Green).
He said: "Opening our libraries seven days a week will make them more accessible, not less, and enhance the service for many people.
"It is not just a matter of geographical issues. Our response to concerns of equality in the consultation has been an expansion of the outreach service to schools and improvements for housebound people."
Regularly interrupted by heckling from the audience, Mr Powney continued: "There are more things to consider than just what people said in the consultation. We are designing a library service supposed to promote libraries to the whole population, and we also have to take into account people who don't currently use the library service."
Council leader Ann John gave up the first hour of the meeting to hear various speakers, ranging in age from seven to 90-years-old.
Seven-year-old Jasmine Mainoo said: "My mum can't afford to keep buying my books, I am speaking for all the children, please don't close Preston Library."
Morris Cohen, aged 90, spoke in favour of Neasden Library. He said: "Elderly people use it as a home not just a library."Neasden used to be a no-go area but the library has been a positive influence, it will deteriorate if you close it."
Campaigning to save Barham Park Library in Sudbury was Violet Steele, chair of Brent Pensioners' Forum.
Breaking down in tears, she said: "Local people feel disappointed by the council, which recently invested in modernising the library and included a children centre in it, only to propose to close it just three months after reopening."
But the Labour cabinet could not be persuaded. Councillor George Crane (Fryent) repeated their claim that the cut to Brent's budget imposed by the government, worth £100million over four years, had forced the closures.
Audience members again cried out, asking why £100million was instead being spent on a new town hall, and why a table tennis facility was being installed at Willesden Green.
Residents have refused to admit defeat. Save Kensal Rise Library will meet tonight (Thursday 14) at 7pm in the Scout Hall in Leighton Gardens to discuss a new way forward.