WOKINGHAM’S town centre library is set to move to new, smaller premises in Carnival Pool after Executive approved an in principle decision when they met last month – but there is growing anger over the way in which the plans were introduced.
Under the plans, which will be opened to public consultation later this month, the Denmark Street home to the bookworm’s paradise will be replaced with a new single-storey state-of-the-art facility that will open no earlier than 2021.
The plan to move the Library will be part of Phase II of the Carnival Pool regeneration project – the first part saw the building of a new multi-storey car park with bowling alley that will form part of the gateway to the new town centre.
And, as part of the proposal, the Executive – which met on Thursday, March 30 – agreed to the compulsory purchase of the existing Carnival Pool site, again with a view of revamping the facilities.
The news that the library is to be moved, subject to consultation, comes just days after the completion of a £47,000 refit of the existing facilities. And it turns out that the first some councillors knew about the plans was when the Executive papers were published on Wednesday, March 22.
Many of the questioned about the library move raised by both politicians and residents at the Executive meeting touched on the sudden nature of the announcement. And readers took to our Facebook page after we revealed the news to express their concerns.
At the meeting Peter Must, chairman of The Wokingham Society asked Cllr Pauline Jorgensen why there hadn’t been a prior public consultation relating to the proposal to move the library.
He asked: “Is it not vital to consult local people to discover their views on the proposal?”
Cllr Jorgensen said: “The council conducted an extensive consultation in 2016 on the proposed library offer for the borough … these views were the cornerstone of the new Library Offer that was adopted in June 2016.
“It was clear that residents wanted the library to retain books as its primary stock, to offer facilities that support learning and achievement and to continue to meet residents’ expectations for utilising and embracing new technology.”
She added that more than 1,000 people had responded to the Library Offer consultation.
A new public consultation will be launched next month, she pledged.
“Residents will have many opportunities to understand and shape the final details of the new library before it is expected to open in 2021,” she added.
Another resident, Keith Malvern asked why the first time he was made aware of the plans was when the Executive agenda was published last Wednesday, despite the Town Council learning of the proposal on February 22.
Cllr Jorgensen replied: “The council received a response from a Wokingham Town councillor expressing their view that the move to the proposed new site was ‘an excellent idea’; no other responses were received from the briefing note sent to local borough or town council members.”
Cllr Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey asked a question on behalf of fellow councillor Imogen Shepherd-DuBey: “Why was this proposal kept secret from many Wokingham Borough members until now?”
Cllr Jorgensen replied: “I would like to reassure members and the public that there has been on ‘secrecy’ around the proposals… Everyone will get to have their say on the detailed proposals for the Carnival Phase 2 scheme during next month’s public engagement.
“The decision taken tonight is one of a matter of principal and will be subject to further design and feasibility work. The library will not be moving until 2021 at the earliest so there is plenty of opportunity for members and the public to contribute to the detailed design process between now and 2021.”
The vote was carried unanimously.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Jorgensen said: “Our plans to relocate Wokingham Library to a new site within 300 yards of the current Library will mean more usable space, improved parking facilities, and greater flexibility and improved cost efficiency.
“Back in 2016, we conducted a consultation with local residents on the Council’s Library Offer, which showed overwhelming support for our libraries adapting to the changing needs of residents, including broadening the range of activities and events that people can enjoy. We also asked Wokingham Town Council for their views and received supportive comments.
“The decision by the Executive was to agree to the relocation in principle subject to feasibility and a sound business case.
“Starting in April, we will have public engagement sessions to allow residents to set out their concerns and to help shape the details of the new library before a possible opening in 2021. We are right at the start of this project and very keen to hear views of users and potential users from across the Borough.
“We are one of the few councils in the country which is expanding their library provision and experiencing growth in usage of our facilities. I believe this is because we haven’t been afraid to adapt to keep the service relevant and modern and to improve the experience for residents. This will enable us to protect it for future generations.
“The decision has been called in by the opposition members who, rather than engaging in the project and grasping this opportunity seem to be reluctant to support any improvement and are even questioning expenditure on a lick of paint for the old library three years ahead of any possible move!”
And Peter Must, from The Wokingham Society, said: “We really want people to look out for the notices in the Library, in The Wokingham Paper, and anywhere else they appear, and let Councillor Jorgensen know what they think.
“This is a highly significant proposal.
“Our Library has had only three homes in over 150 years (Town Hall, Montague House and the current location).
“When the then new Library was opened in October 1996 the District Council produced a celebratory brochure headed: ‘A Library for the 21st Century’. Just 20 years later the Library faces the prospect of removal to a new location and it is vital that the Borough Council do what is right for the longer term and for the many people of the town and the locality who use it.”
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