Libraries are one of those services that everyone likes to think of as “a good thing” but which, when it comes to stark choices about money, not everyone wants to pay for. For Heathfield Library in TW2, closure is looking like more than just a risk, it’s looking like a certainty unless something happens pretty soon. A lot of locals are pretty hacked off with what’s gone on there.
In this opinion piece, local resident Mark Walker explains how we ended up in this sorry state:“The mess that has resulted in Twickenham’s poorest ward being left without a Library came to a head on Saturday 5th February. A group of around 50 local residents were addressed by councillors John Coombs (Lib Dem) and Alan Butler (Conservative) who both represent Heathfield Ward on Richmond Council and MP Vince Cable. Butler, whose Conservative party are now running the Council, told the meeting that his council would keep looking for a solution, and Coombs expressed his disappointment that the area would be without a library.
That’s all fine – except for the fact that it’s the actions of the two parties that the councillors are members of that got us into this mess in the first place.
It was the Lib Dem council that sold the library building and the surrounding land in order to provide a healthcare polyclinic. I know that not everyone likes polyclinics but personally I think they represent the best way of providing good local health care (something that Heathfield ward is in great need of given the high demand for services of this kind). The sale made £750,000. Of this, £400,000 was allocated to a new library service, to be provided at Heathfield School, a five minute walk away.
In May 2010, the Conservatives took control of the Council and announced that they did not intend to spend the allocated money on providing a new library service in the area. From the 17th March there’ll be no library service in the area. The closest will be in Whitton, about a thirty minute walk away.
Does this matter? We all feel that we have yet again been forgotten by the council. Library services are one of the cornerstones of the services that councils are supposed to provide. They do more than just lend books – they are a visible sign that the council tax payer is not being forgotten by the council. It’s our hope that the decision can be revisited and that library services can be reprovided somewhere in the local area and that the profit from the sale of the building does not disappear elsewhere in the borough.
And I would hope that both parties can be more honest about how they explain these decisions to the electorate. We have seen leaflets from both parties that criticise the other for changes to library provision. The people of Heathfield deserve a more honest discussion about the future of local services.
[Mark is one of many local residents concerned about the fate of Heathfield Library. As we bloody love a bit of transparency here at twickerati we will also point out that he is also Chair of the local Labour Party.]