A final decision on the fate of Hove Library, which the council wants to move to Hove Museum, has been delayed after Labour discovered that Green and Conservative members were planning to vote down the plans.
The plans, which were first mooted last year and extensively consulted on, were due to be discussed for the final time by Brighton and Hove City Council‘s policy and resources committee on Thursday.
The plans are hugely controversial locally, with thousands signing a petition protesting what campaigners are calling the closure of the library.
They had been voted through each committee stage to date, but the Greens had been planning an amendment, supported by the Tories. Together, their votes would have outnumbered Labour’s on Thursday.
Green councillors and committee members Phélim Mac Cafferty and Ollie Sykes said: “Although we welcome this stay of execution for Hove Library in response to our amendment, the fate of the much-loved Carnegie building is still far from secure.
“Labour have backed off for now but remain determined to to flog a vital piece of Hove’s cultural heritage at a later date.
“We are disappointed that Labour refuses to have an open debate on the issue, which seeks to respond to the concerns both Greens and Conservatives raised in their amendment to the proposals.
“Instead they are evading the tough questions because they realise their plans don’t stand up to scrutiny.
“Labour is on the back foot but we need to keep up the pressure if we are to save the library. It’s time for Labour to realise their plans just don’t have support from the majority of Hove residents.”
The council said it needed to sell the Carnegie building the library is currently housed in to save running costs and prevent the closure of suburban branch libraries.
It planned to use the proceeds from the sale of the listed building to build an extension to Hove Museum to house a new cultural centre.
Council leader and chair of the policy and resources committee Councillor Warren Morgan said: “Following last-minute discussions with the opposition groups on the council, I have decided to withdraw the Libraries Plan from the agenda of this week’s Policy and Resources Committee.
“This plan is essential in maintaining a council-run network of community libraries across the city, extending opening hours and delivering a library service for the residents of central Hove, all within the agreed and limited budget for the service.
“Throughout this process, senior officers from the libraries team have answered all of the points and queries put forward by councillors from all groups, and have tabled a twenty five page business case setting out the financial case for the Libraries Plan as a whole.
“However, I am keen that further time is given for exploration of the financial options involved if that is what is needed to secure a consensus.
“It is vital that we move forward with this as soon as possible so that the future of the Carnegie Building is secured and so that political differences do not undermine a plan that has secured majority public support.”
Erstwhile library campaigner Christopher Hawtree welcomed the news of the 11th-hour delay. He said: “Sensational! This is exactly what happened in 2003.
“Then the report to policy and resources was pulled at the last minute, and I was told that this is very unusual in local government. For it to happen again is extraordinary.
“Questions need to be asked about the way in which this wretched proposal to close the library, and currently running down its stock, came to be.
“From any point of view, the ‘business plan’ makes one ask why council officers are paid so much to produce it. The library owes its existence to a man, Andrew Carnegie, who, in his own business, would never have allowed such a document to appear.
“Let us give thanks once again to him for his splendid gift to the town.”
The joint Green/Conservative amendment in full:
Amend recommendation 2.1 and 2.2 and delete recommendation 2.3 (shown as struck through below) and replace with 2.3 in bold italics.
2.1 That the Committee authorises the Executive Director Finance & Resources, Assistant Director Property & Design and Head of Legal & Democratic Services to approve terms and disposal of Hove Library Carnegie building and Hollingbury Library building to support the library service redesign and re-locations set out in the body of the report.
2.2 That the Committee approve the ring-fencing of the capital receipts from the sale of Hollingbury Library both buildings to fund the development of a new extension at Hove Museum (Brooker Hall) and the physical moves of Hove Library into Hove Museum, and of Hollingbury Library service into the Hollingbury and Patcham Children’s Centre and the Old Boat Community Centre. Any surplus receipts from the disposals of the two buildings will be reinvested into the council’s corporate strategic capital resources for future capital investment priorities.
2.3 That the committee approve additional borrowing to fund potential shortfalls in capital expenditure required to enable the development of the extension at Hove Museum. The borrowing costs will be met from the Hove Library revenue savings.
2.3. Given the fact that a robust business case has not been provided despite repeated requests to the Administration, we propose that any further work on moving Hove Library is suspended, allowing officers to undertake further work and to investigate alternative solutions, which would include as a minimum:
2.3.1. A full assessment of the risks of loss of some or all of the heritage fabric of the Carnegie building should it be sold on the open market.
2.3.2. Like for like comparative presentation of capital maintenance requirements of the Hove Library and Museum sites. The available costed maintenance estimates are not set out on a comparable basis.
2.3.3. Consideration of revenue savings requirements for Hove Library in the Carnegie building without the book fund savings, which should be considered as a saving not accruing from the proposed move.
2.3.4. Consideration of revenue funding implications for Hove Library in the Carnegie building under a Libraries Extra management arrangement as proposed for the rest of the library service.
2.3.5. Consideration of a financial model that allows the Carnegie Building to stay in public hands and for it to be managed and used by the community and voluntary sector.
2.3.6. Consideration of a management model whereby the Hove Library in the Carnegie Building becomes part of the Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust portfolio of important amenity and heritage assets.