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Waterloo Library to be "relocated to a better building"

London SE1 website team

Waterloo Library is to be relocated from its current Lower Marsh premises, Lambeth Council leader Steve Reed confirmed on Monday night.

Cllr Reed was speaking at a meeting of the borough's cabinet which was considering the findings of the Lambeth Libraries Commission set up this summer to make recommendations on how to save money and improve library services.

As we reported last week, the commission found that in Waterloo "the community would not be best served by maintaining a library service in the existing building" and recommended that the council should sell the valuable Lower Marsh site.

The present Waterloo Library and job shop was established as an interim measure to replace the previous North Lambeth Library (itself a temporary building) which closed when the structure was declared unsafe. Waterloo has been without a permanent public library since 1966.

"No area will lose a library service as a result of these proposals," said Cllr Steve Reed at Monday's meeting.

"Waterloo will be relocated but to a better building with the support of the local community organisations.

"Every other library will remain open in its existing building if that is what the local community wants.

"There will be no compulsory closures of any buildings and no removal of a library service from any area that currently has one."

There are also plans to introduce self-service machines for issuing books and other items, and public wifi will be provided in every Lambeth library.

The cabinet meeting was addressed by Michael Ball, director of the Waterloo Community Development Group, who said that there was much to welcome in the commission's recommendations.

However, he pointed out that the commission had failed to address the needs of people working in Lambeth who are not necessarily residents of the borough. By law the council is required to consider local employees when planning its library service.

"We've got 40,000 or so [workers] in Waterloo and that changes the demographic of the need here," Mr Ball told the cabinet.

He continued: "We've been asking for something to be done about our library for 40 years.

"You are saying that the currently library is not really fit for purpose. We would totally agree.

"We need a new library and this report suggests that this could be done with a community hub in the Waterloo Action Centre.

"That's a proposal that we looked at some years ago and we think that it is very possible.

"There are resources there, there are organisations like us, the [Waterloo Quarter] business improvement district and South Bank Employers' Group who I am sure will want to help and be part of that."

Mr Ball called on the council to take a ruthless approach to facing up to its maintenance backlog and urged councillors not to offload crumbling buildings onto community groups.

"There is the opportunity to really make something here: to take the assets that you've got and to take the powers that you've got from planning.

"There are massive multi-billion pound developments going on in Waterloo. A developer six years ago said 'I'll give you a library if you support my planning application' ... that sort of game is on the cards. It is possible. You could do it.

"Please, take this opportunity and do it."

Cllr Florence Nosegbe, cabinet member for culture, explained how the council's proposed community hubs will work.

She said: "It's not just about handing over buildings to community groups, it's about co-designing and co-producing those buildings and services with our community groups in the spirit of the co-operative council."

Cllr Reed added: "Nor is there any intention at all to hand more control to user groups or local communities at this stage. The intention is to build those communities' capacity so that they are in a position to take over where they want to and where they have the ability to do so.

"We are not trying to push any communities into this; we are just trying to engage user groups and local communities more intimately with their libraries in order to get a better service and in order to anchor them even more deeply in their communities."

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