Last week’s public meeting about plans to create a council hub at Bramley Library has stirred a passionate repsonse from some. 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 building. Dispatch reader David Bennett wrote critically about the meeting earlier this week. Here, Bramley councillor Kevin Ritchie and a local resident respond to that.
I’d like to respond to David Bennett’s comments on the Hub meeting. While I respect the right of anybody to have an opinion and to express it by whatever vehicle they choose, I do think it’s important that opinions are not reported as facts, particularly when the evidence shows the claim is not factually correct.
- “the room was half full of LCC council employees….some people from Kirklees Council .” The fact is there were about 8 LCC employees and 34 members of the public who signed in, in addition to the presenting officers/elected members. There were no Council officers from Kirklees. I believe a LCC employee lives in Kirklees or has a partner who works there, hence the car sticker.
- “The vast majority of the other half of the attendees were the local OAP Labour members.” I recognised at most 5 Labour party members in the audience and you won’t be surprised to hear there are a range of views within the Labour Party, so it doesn’t follow they slavishly follow our line.
- Now the “(un)funny” stories – I may be guilty here, that’s my personality – we could all be clones of the consummate “serious politician” but thankfully we aren’t – what you see is what you get with me – bit of whimsy here and there, usually at my own expense! Some folk might not get it, I won’t lose any sleep over that!
- “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.” Well it saddens me if this was the perception, I think the objections were responded to in good faith. There was time at the end for more detailed questions with relevant officers and the Cllr’s a number of people did just that.
- Seating and parking – one of the points of the consultation was to discuss the layout – was it right? had we overlooked anything etc?
By way of background we have spent months working out the best options to retain and protect our library. To be fair to officers they have a remit to cut costs because of revenue budgetary pressures while delivering a community hub.
Why a hub?
Why a hub? Because they are a proven success bringing services into the heart of our local community under one roof. Our job is to make sure we represent the interests of our constituents to get the best possible outcome for them. Rachel Reeves, Cllr’s Gruen, Heselwood and myself have held numerous meetings with officers to get an option and design we think is acceptable to the people of Bramley. The plans record option 5 that’s just for this library proposal.
In addition we’ve been through various schemes and rejected them because we didn’t think they were acceptable to Bramley because each meant losing our well-loved historic building on Hough Lane.
It’s not practical to discuss every little detail with the twenty-odd thousand people who live in the ward. We do our job to our best abilities for the people of Bramley (in this case). People will take a view on our record in office at election time, that’s our democracy.
So I believe the query on seating was answered, things can be moved round to accommodate larger groups – as is currently the case. There is also a private room for personal consultations – the same as exists in the housing office now (most queries in the housing office are dealt with a the counter in an open plan office).
Car parking is a massive problem wherever you go, the housing estates near schools, community centre, library currently. Firstly we were able to reassure people that there wouldn’t be greater numbers of staff to park as the housing back office won’t be in the Hub.
But a bigger breakthrough, which wouldn’t have come to light without the meeting, was the news the Hollies Sports & Social Club on Hough Lane (former Liberal Club) allows the church to use the car park when events are on. So we were very grateful for the Rev Crabb’s intervention. I undertook to speak to the club officials to scope out that possibility.
- I think it’s unfair to say the meeting was unprofessionally run. Cllr Gruen and Rachel Reeves co-chaired it very well, everybody got an opportunity to speak, the speakers were listen to, one person at a time, nothing was rushed etc. There was an opportunity to stay and speak after the meeting and suggestion boxes will be left for a period after the meeting for additional comments. The fact is the majority of people in that room were supportive of the concept.
- “This particularly 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.”
I am sorry if David felt he was spoken down to, but I don’t think any of us have an uncaring approach to public office.
That aspect of his comment hurts – we genuinely do our level best to serve our constituents. Quite rightly, others will ultimately judge us on that.
‘Consulation not a charade’
Bramley resident Keely Bannister sent us her response to the public meeting:
After reading the comments from David Bennett that were published on The Dispatch on July 25th, I felt compelled to write my own views on the meeting. I do agree with some of David’s comments but I also disagree with him in parts.
If David felt that he wasn’t listened to and was patronised then his feelings are his own and cannot be debated. I do think to call the consultation a ‘charade’ is incorrect.
Everyone present was given the chance to voice their opinions and there were no time constraints placed on people in which to do this. People were free to speak for as long as they wished to and to say what they felt.
If you asked a question or made a comment and weren’t happy with the response or wanted to come back on a point then there was no one stopping you from doing this and carrying on the discussion.
I didn’t see any comments from residents being greeted with frowns or disinterest but again, this is an opinion and if David did feel that this did happen, then it is not for me to tell him how he should interpret things.
It was explained that we would be shown the plans and have them explained to us as one group and then we would form into smaller groups and discuss the plans further.
From the beginning of the meeting it was clear that the overwhelming majority of people in the room were in favour of the plans and it was about half way through the meeting that a member of the audience said something to the affect of “Everyone supports the plans. Lets not waste time, let’s get on with it.” This is when the smaller group discussions were abandoned and anyone who had any ‘strong feelings against the plans’ were asked to raise their hands.
I haven’t been to a community consultation before but to my mind the consultation did have a good attendance.
There was, I think, approximately 30 residents/service users in attendance and 20 Leeds city council employees. The Leeds city council employees seemed to be made up of mainly librarians and housing staff who have an invested stake in the community hub, so I would suggest that their presence was warranted.
The council employees didn’t voice opinions, this was left to the residents/service users in attendance.
Rachel Reeves MP, who was late with no apology or explanation, began the consultation by speaking passionately about the importance of libraries to local communities and her desire to keep them open.
A council officer who was helping to present the plans and answer questions/concerns did very early on admit that she was biased in favour of having the hub in the library.
The emphasis from everyone – Rachel Reeves, Cllrs Ritchie and Gruen and council officers – was that having the hub in the library would not only secure the future of the library but also see substantial investment into the building to restore and enhance the original features such as the roof and floor.
Any changes to the library would be minimal and sympathetic to the aesthetics of the building. The entrance would be changed with a return to the original doors with these having to be widened to meet disability legislation.
It was confirmed that if the library did accommodate the hub, the amount of books currently in the library would remain the same with a return to the original bookshelves which are currently boarded up. There would also be more computers then the current library houses and the addition of public toilets.
The benefits of having a community hub in Bramley were outlined: All services would be under one roof and additional services would be introduced to Bramley such as a registrar for births and deaths, a place where the community could come and speak to someone to report crime and also a dedicated job shop which would not only help people find work but help people find better paid work.
There was a resident/service user who spoke of her positive experiences dealing with a job shop. After being made redundant she visited Pudsey job centre but received no help to find work. She ventured across the road to the Pudsey community hub and job shop and the staff there found her a job on that initial contact.
One of David’s criticism’s in his comments was that alternatives to the plan were not discussed, but I would suggest that they were.
There was a clear and admitted bias to the library being the hub, but it was stated by Cllr Gruen that the shopping centre has been looked at as a possible destination but there were no suitable units available. There was also ‘limitations’ (not expanded upon) to using the current housing office.
No-one present questioned these comments/asked for more details and no-one made a suggestion of where else the hub could/should be housed.
The vicar from the neighbouring St Peter’s church was in attendance. He said he had come with the remit of proposing his church as a suitable venue for the hub because he could have made good use of the financial investment, but after seeing the suggested proposals he felt that the hub would be best suited in the library.
Parking was raised as a problem by several people in attendance and it was admitted by council officers that this was the ‘main’ drawback of using the library for the hub as there was ‘no magic wand’ to fix the issue.
The woodland behind the library was suggested by residents/service users but discounted by the vicar, who explained that this was being developed by the next door school, who own the woodland, as a wildlife garden.
It was the vicar who informed us that on busy days for the church he had an agreement in place with the liberal club across the road to use their car park because they were not open during day time hours.
Cllrs Ritchie and Gruen said they would approach the liberal club and explore the possibility of a hub at the library having a similar deal as the church has. The vicar also said he had a ‘naughty’ idea to increase parking that he would discuss privately with the councillors as it would ‘upset anyone that heard it’. I felt that the parking issue was taken very seriously and a good discussion surrounded it.
The other main issue raised, as David highlighted in his remembering of the meeting, was the possibility of distressed service users and whether this was compatible in a building shared with a library.
On the proposed ground floor plans the main space of the library is sectioned off from the hub area but you will have to walk past other service users to get to the library. This was the issue that I think was almost dismissed by the council offers present and Rachel Reeves. Cllrs Ritchie and Gruen were mainly quiet on this issue.
I felt that the comments around distressed service users were answered with a shrug of the shoulders and we were told that it wouldn’t be a problem and hadn’t been a problem at any other hub in Leeds that was housed in an existing library.
Rather incredulously, it was suggested by a council officer that library users are far more irate and emotional then housing office users or people visiting a registrar to record a death of a loved one.
We were assured that all staff, including library staff, working at the hub would be trained to deal with all service users in the building and this training would include how to deal with emotional service users.
When a resident said that a library is a place for thinking and that the added noise of the hub would disturb that, it was suggested that libraries are not the places of old where everyone had to be quiet and the extra service users would create a vibrant atmosphere in the building with a wider mix of people using the library.
The issue of privacy with so many services under one roof was raised and it was explained again by council officers and Rachel Reeves that all staff would be trained to deal with all service users and professionalism and confidentiality would be part of that training.
We were told that nothing had been decided and people still had the chance to voice their opinions. Copies of the proposed ground floor layout were to be left in the library.
I would suggest that if people have views they wish to express on Bramley Library housing a community hub then the Bramley and Stanningley Forum which takes place on Thursday would be a good place to raise them.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.