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Agenda, decisions and minutes

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No. Item




Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Paul Douglas and Jemma Hemsted.


It was noted that Councillors Selina Seesunkur and Alastair Strathern were present as substitute members for Councillors Hemsted and Douglas respectively.



Members are required to declare any pecuniary or non-pecuniary interest they or their spouse/partner may have in any matter that is to be considered at this meeting.  Interests are defined in the front cover of this agenda.





Members of the public are welcome to participate in scrutiny meetings.  You may speak for three minutes on a topic related to the Committee’s work, and fifteen minutes in total is allowed for public speaking, at the discretion of the Chair.  If you would like to speak, please contact Democratic Services (details above) by 12 noon on the day before the meeting.




The Chair invited members of the public who had registered to speak to address the Committee.  She reminded those present that although the meeting was taking place in public, it was not a public meeting.


Five members of the public spoke, broadly in opposition to the closure of the existing Wood Street Library.  The main concerns were:


  • Overlooking the possibility of a building with additional facilities in it
  • Putting plans on hold until the local elections, and a lack of clarity around the plans for Marlowe Road and library provision
  • Asking the Committee to put political allegiances aside
  • The building is of architectural merit, acts as a gateway to Wood Street and reflects the style of the Town Hall nearby
  • The future impact on the street scene is unclear
  • There is the scope for a high-quality public space
  • There are better solutions: council taxpayers are losing a freehold asset
  • The full design potential of the existing site has not been considered
  • The income-generation potential of the space will be handed over to a developer
  • The character of the borough is being eroded
  • Asking the Council to protect a well-loved public building
  • The potential for a safe space for young people and parents, including a café, drop-in and surgery is being ignored in favour of a money-spinner
  • Losing desperately needed community space for generations to come
  • Reading allows people to lead happier and healthier lives
  • The report says that 69 per cent of respondents disagree with the Council’s proposal


In summary, speakers asked the Committee to reconsider the decision.


As Portfolio Lead Member for culture, the Leader of the Council thanked the speakers for their contributions; as a Wood Street resident herself, she was acutely aware of the community’s needs.  She underlined the point that the work of the Council is based on people, not on buildings, and must therefore seek to provide the right space for people in the right places.  At present the upper floor of the existing building is accessible only by unsuitable stairs, whereas clearly all spaces should be fully accessible.


Libraries are places of knowledge, where people can come together and learn together.  The pressure on libraries has intensified in the age of austerity, where deep cuts have resulted in no new capital expenditure, with 347 libraries having closed nationally, and another 211 under threat.  In Waltham Forest, it is the Council that has generated the £5 million needed to invest in libraries and the people who work there, against a backdrop of £100 million cuts, and not helped by Brexit. 


In this context, it is essential that facilities are modern, attractive and accessible: the future does not lie in outmoded buildings, and the present situation is not the way forward.


Public Speakers:  Nancy Taaffe

Adrian Stannard

Roger Payne

Tanya Chiwuoke

Anthony Lane



Additional documents:



Consideration was given to a report of the Scrutiny Officer.


The Chair invited Councillor Catherine Saumarez to address the Committee on behalf of the Members of the Council who had requested that the matter be called in.


Councillor Saumarez said that the response to public consultation indicated that residents of Wood Street and Chapel End wards did not feel they were being listened to, and the vast majority believed that libraries belonged at the heart of the community.  63 per cent of respondents strongly disagreed with the proposal. Wood Street Library was in need of improvement but the currently unused spaces were beautiful and had potential: rather like the Royal Albert Hall, the building was not perfect for its purpose but is much-loved, and has its place as Walthamstow grows as a place of creativity. 


It was astonishing that the proposal to close the library had not taken into account the potential for use jointly with the adjoining Woodside School, which had not been properly consulted, or the hundreds of new homes in the area, including the 600 proposed for the Town Hall site.


It was also regrettable that the proposal had not been submitted for scrutiny before the decision.


Councillor Saumarez summarised that Wood Street Library is part of the borough’s heritage, that libraries belonged at the heart of Waltham Forest life, founded on the joy of reading.  She implored the Committee to recommend reconsideration of the decision.


The Leader of the Council believed that many of these points had been addressed.  It was important to detach emotion from the choices available, and to guard against misrepresentation of public support for libraries as endorsement of the facilities currently on offer at Wood Street.  Waltham Forest has a good reputation for backing community venues and businesses, also with the financial support of the Mayor of London. 


Councillor Coghill was proud that the Council still provides a complement of eight libraries serving the whole borough, and that a library serving Wood Street would continue to be one of these.  Strong financial planning and budgetary controls mean that this situation will continue at a time when other local authorities are cutting back.


Lea Bridge Library – Councillor Osho asked about the degree of certainty in relation to match funding.  It was explained that £420k would be doubled to £820k including a café and improvements to the garden.


Tenure and size of Marlowe Road provision – in response to a question from Councillor Strathern, it was clarified that the Council will own the new building for the proposed new library in perpetuity: it will not be leased, and there will be an opportunity cost saving.  The community had expressed strong views that the two units originally proposed at Marlowe Road (268 m2) would be two small. In response, another unit had been added, bringing the total to 440 m2, which is more than the currently usable space in the old building.  Councillor Seesunkur pointed out that the NPSL report  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.