Cobbett Road Library: 'What was the purpose of the huge consultation?'

kevin lancashireWe speak to the Friends of Cobbett Road Library chair Kevin Lancashire, left, to get his reaction to the recommendations from the recent libraries consultation – that the council should cease to run five city libraries including Cobbett Road.
• Recommendation Cobbett should close
Cabinet decides - August 18 from 4.30pm (held in public)

The Friends of Cobbett Road have argued throughout the £26,000 library consultation process that there could be a 'third way' for the library other than closure or community asset transfer. Finally the outcome of the consultation, which saw 7,706 people take part, has been published, with recommendations that the council stop running five city libraries including Cobbett. We spoke to the Friends of Cobbett Road Library chair Kevin Lancashire, pictured, to get his reaction.

What are your thoughts on the recommendations from the libraries consultation, which include to “cease to provide a Council managed Library Service from Cobbett Road Library, Burgess Road Library, Millbrook Library, Thornhill Library, Weston Library, and the Mobile Library by March 31, 2016” unless third parties come forward to try to take them over?

I'm very disappointed that it would appear that all the effort, time and energy that we've spent with councillors over the last few months has been for nothing.

Regarding the huge consultation that we had – and I quote from an email that was sent out to staff – "generally there is no change to the proposals which were briefed to staff in November 2014", which means to me: what was the purpose of the huge consultation?

There doesn't seem to be any leeway or comeback in regards to a halfway house.

chris packham with library group by Steve Hickman
TV presenter, naturalist and photographer Chris Packham supports campaigners at Cobbett Road Library in February Pic:© Steve Hickman

Can you see community asset transfer [whereby local libraries are taken on usually by voluntary groups] happening at Cobbett Road Library?

No. Community asset transfer has been discussed many many times with Friends of Cobbett Road Library, and the general opinion has been that that wasn't an option.

We felt all along that if there was somehow a 'halfway house' so we could help to run the library with the council, then that may be worth exploring.


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But community asset transfer would involve everything from looking after the book stock and internet services, to the maintenance of the building, and things like maintaining links to other libraries which are obviously very important for the transfer of books: these pressures just aren't achievable for a small voluntary group such as ours, which is at capacity with the volunteering roles it already plays.

We've looked at what's involved at other libraries which are run by volunteers, like at North Baddesley, and the task is huge. Cobbett is a much larger enterprise, and we feel taking on more for the Friends group is unrealistic. I can't see it operating without council input.

“It needs to be discussed in full, rather than just steamrolled through in August when lots of people are away”

It seems odd that the heating system at Cobbett Road Library has just been updated to the tune of £99,000 when the cost of maintaining Cobbett is about £52,000 a year, and Private Eye reported Simon Letts, leader of the council, as saying the building would continue to be used for the community.

Yes. It is odd because the fabric of the building has been well maintained over the last two or three years: we've had new windows, we've had the roof sorted out, and of course the biggest thing recently has been the £99,000 heating system this year. Now if you spend all that kind of time and money bringing these things up to date, it is odd. You have to think, 'What's going on?'

library consultation adult

Do you think there's a chance this decision will get revised at cabinet stage?

I sincerely hope so. There's the Scrutiny meeting on the 13th [5.30pm at the Civic Centre]. I think it would be important for as many people as possible to get there, because we can ask questions at that meeting.

saveourlibrary4And there is the cabinet meeting next Tuesday on the 18th [4.30pm at the Civic Centre]. Now I think personally, with such a huge decision on the library service within the whole city and the tremendous impact this will bring, this should be fully discussed at a full council meeting in September, because this will have far-reaching consequences for communities across the city, not just Cobbett.

It needs to be discussed in full, rather than just being steamrolled through in August when lots of people are away. They're trying to bury bad news, basically, which I'm quite disgusted at, and I think a lot of other people are. Lots of people are away on holiday, including one of our [Bitterne Park] councillors, so the decision to come out today [Monday 10 August] was highly political.

The report to Cabinet included in the meeting's 344-page "Public Reports Pack of which the papers for Agenda Item 9, The Future of The Southampton Library Service - over 250 pages.

The commissioned report on the consultation exercise conducted by Opinion Research Services – 312 pages 

Happy reading!

Meetings in August
August council meetings discussing libraries held in public at Civic Centre

Overview & Scrutiny Committee - Aug 13, 5.30pm

Cabinet - Aug 18, 4.30pm


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