Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Readers’ letter: Bramley Library ‘hub’ consultation scrutinised

25 July 2016

Last Thursday a consultation event was held at Bramley Library over plans to create a council hub on the site. The hub would host a variety of council services which could include customer services, housing enquiries, help with finding a job, support with debt and a registrar for births and deaths. The cash-strapped council hopes the proposals will also safeguard the future of the art deco library buuilding. Dispatch reader David Bennett has written his version of the meeting…

At the meeting the room was half full of Leeds City Council employees and, oddly enough, some people from Kirklees Council.

The vast majority of the other half of the attendees were the local OAP Labour members who were mostly silent throughout the meeting until they burst out in applause at the end. This gave the appearance that the meeting was ‘well attended’.

If you asked a ‘favourable’ question or praised the plans (‘I think it’s wonderful’ ‘I think it’s beautiful’ Seriously?) you were greeted with big smiles, (un) funny stories, jokes, a cheery acknowledgment of your presumed wisdom and a big thank you for coming along.

‘Opinion was dismissed’

If you objected you were greeted with frowns, disinterest, patronised and ultimately your opinion was dismissed as nonconsequential to the proceedings with no invite offered or given to expand on your objection.

Just after the start of the meeting a guy (directly in front of me) asked ‘Why are we even having a meeting, the plans look great?’ (huh?) to which the Officer said ‘well let’s finish it here then … errr is there anyone who’s STRONGLY (notice the wording? Used to create barriers.) against the proposal?’.

Two of us raised our hands as we did oppose the plans (not strongly personally as I have an open mind when it come to the difficulties of local issues) and both our objections were treated equally with distain and disrespect.

I don’t care either way whether others agree with me or not, that’s not my concern here. But I do expect as a long-term Bramley resident and long-term user of the library to have a fair hearing and discussion of my stated objection from the people who have been elected to represent me.

I stated facts (‘Some people become emotional in Social Housing Offices which makes the two incompatable’, numerous evidence abounds of this so how could those present not be aware of it?) in my objection – and was told twice that these facts don’t exist and that no one becomes emotional in Council Housing Offices. Is that even legal? Is that conducting yourself with integrity as our public servants are bound by a Code of Conduct to do so? I’m unclear about this and will be seeking further clarity.

Seating and parking

There’s also the issue of there being 14 seats allocated for the library area, one lady asked if her group of 15 would still be able to come along. She was told yes of course. But no mention was made of where the other 30 people, on average during the busy periods (according to an employee who I had asked earlier), were going to sit and no mention of where the people enquiring about housing were going to sit either.

Let’s say at some point there could be 50 to 60 service users in the building. It’s patroning and misleading to say that there is enough seats and tables for everyone to be comfortable when anyone could fathom that there clearly is not.

It was also brought up during the meeting that there wasn’t any parking on Hough Lane.

A local resident from across the road had joined the meeting and he appeared slightly irate and announced that blue car from the meeting had blocked his drive and could someone go and move it. No-one spoke up and the MP said ‘It’s not anyone’s from here’.

When he then said ‘Yes it is, it’s got a Kirklees Council sticker on it’ someone jumped up at the back and quickly went to move it, no apology was given.

This parking issue was again brushed over and we were told by the MP that most people walk anyway and also that they could possibly be ‘cutting a deal with the Liberal Club across the road to use their car park’ (what’s taking them so long to cut this deal is anyone’s guess). Well, what if the Liberal Club say no? Do they have any contingency plans? They certainly didn’t reveal them if they had.

This wasn’t a consultation where equally situated people convene to discuss and debate their opinions about the future of their library as there was minimal to no discussion of other options or opinions which didn’t tally with the Council’s and, in fact, one of the officers actually said that it was a LCC directive to ‘get the most out of libraries’ (creating Hubs).

‘Get the most out of libraries’

So why the charade? Why waste people’s time with this pretense that we had other options on the table, so to speak? It was a done deal and the meeting seemed like an unpleasant formality to me.

The only thing up for discussion to my mind was the arrangement of the seating which unfortunately for everyone concerned will be like an episode of The Krypton Factor.

Is this how local democracy now works in West Leeds? You either agree with them or you are ignored once they’ve patronised the hell out of you? Are we supposed to accept this as normal? Not likely.

In Bramley we will now have a Housing Office with a Library attached to its back wall with severely inadequate seating for the users … oh, and let’s not forget no parking to boot. And this is presented to us as a ‘good thing’.

I’m a Bramley resident and I’m deeply dissappointed and unhappy by the way I was spoken to and also by the way I was treated at the meeting by my MP, Council Officers and the Local Councillors.

I thought the way some of them conducted themselves was unsympathetic to opposing views and also throughly unprofessional in the way they carried out the meeting.

This particulary shoddy and seemingly uncaring approach in the way I was spoken down to is clearly not good enough and assuredly unappreciated by myself and I expect a much better service in future and in particular I expect far better conduct from the Public Servants who represent me and the area in which I live in.

Surgery

I went along to the Councillor’s Surgery at the library [on Saturday] morning to speak with Councillor Gruen. She listened to my grievances about the consultation and she then gave me her opinion of the consultation.

And while we ‘didn’t agree’ with each other on some points we we’re able to speak freely and were both treated with courtesy, mutual respect and understanding. This isn’t about being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ it’s about listening, understanding and compromising where possible.

At the end of the meeting we thanked each other and parted company smiling. That, in my opinion, is how Local Democracy should work.

This post features reader’s comments originally posted here by Mr Bennett.

What do you think? Is the hub plan for Bramley Library a good idea? Have your say in our poll.


Do you feel strongly about a local issue in west Leeds? Write to Readers’ Letters via news@westleedsdispatch.com and we’ll print a selection of the best.



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Suzzana says:

Thank you for printing David’s opinion and response I agree with his summary of that meeting despite being a person in receipt of pension, and a local, but new, member of the Labour party. It did feel that the comments of people with valid alternative views were treated with little regard. I had some myself. I use both the housing office as a council tenant and the library. Bramley library needs saving and aspects of a one stop shop appealing but the building unfortunately is not large enough to accommodate both services discreetly. I came away feeling a bit like I had just been part of an Emperor’s New Clothes scenario. More consultations needed!

Stephen McBarron says:

The problem is library will form an integral part of the hub the only question is can the hub be accommodated in the library building? If not the hub will still go ahead either at the housing office or community centre which means the library moving to one of those – in my opinion the worst possible outcome. There is no way they will have a hub without incorporating the library so the only way we can keep our library in its present building is by having the hub there. The local councillors have moved heaven and earth to get the hub based at the library (the only option which keeps our library on its present site) and should be applauded for their efforts. I love the existing library (a purpose built Carnegie one) and have opposed plans to relocate elsewhere since I first heard of them. I should declare an interest – I was a librarian for many years at several of our local libraries and before that a housing officer which I hope means I know a little bit about the subject. Trust me when I say – if you want to keep Bramley Library on its present site then support the hub!