Out with the old;
In with the new;
A Northfield ward committee was told last year that the boarded-up West Heath library was going to be demolished and the new one built on the current site, by February or March of this year. The lead councillor who reported this said ‘don’t quote me on this date exactly’, so perhaps to do so is a little unfair.
But what is a lot more unfair is that in November of this year, there is still no progress. While the Council was quick to demolish the old one, the years-long wait for a replacement for the decaying pre-fabricated building continues.
So what is going on behind the scenes? Unlike behind the hoardings guarding the old site, there must be something going on behind the Council House walls. And indeed, there are stories and hints a-plenty.
The latest is that Council officers are blocking moves to use the money already-earmarked to build the library on the current site, and instead wish to use it to repair the Kings Norton library (with its damaged roof unrepaired for three years now) and then to re-locate the West Heath library into Oddingley Hall, a mile or so away. They are rumoured to have a view of one-library-per-ward, and Northfield has already got one.
Now, where did this supposed rule of thumb come from? If it was the officers, the question has to be asked – who is running the council, the elected politicians or the civil servants? Sir Humphrey Appleby would give a reassuring smile, but we are less fortunate. And anyway, as Oddingley Hall is in Kings Norton, that would give this ward two libraries.
Except that it might not. A community centre with a big room full of books is not a library, quite apart from the lack of proper funding and adequate numbers of qualified staff. And to add to the plot, the ward boundaries might be changing, so it could conceivably place the possible ‘library’ in Oddingley back in Northfield again.
A cynic would be tempted to say that shoe-horning a library into a community centre is a neat way of saving money; financial priorities taking precedent over educational and cultural ones as usual. But remember, the Council has form on this; look what it is trying to do with the Library of Birmingham – shoe-horning the Brasshouse Centre into its first floor.
As everyone knows, the main plot is the austerity drive. The vicious onslaught on Birmingham City finances by first the coalition government and now the Tory one, is what is driving all of this. It is to the credit of local Tory Councillors that they originally found the money to re-develop West Heath library, but at the same time their party was in power nationally, and slashing the cash needed for such very services.
Labour councillors in this area might be busting a gut to get what people in the deprived West Heath area need and deserve, but they, alongside all their other Labour colleagues in the Council Chamber, voted for the cuts budget that led to problems like this occurring in the first place.
And now the finger is apparently being pointed at the Council officers.
While the elusive buck is passed around, the residents of West Heath, accustomed to having a valuable resource, one that was on their doorstep, and despite its crumbling façade one that provided a bit of joy, learning and culture to their area, sit and wait.
Is it so difficult to spend the money already allocated to re-build the West Heath library on its current site, to repair the Kings Norton library roof, to have an appropriate number of properly paid and qualified staff, and to have the ability for these libraries to buy a decent selection of new books?
Is it really so difficult for local citizens to know exactly what is being done with their money and to the service which they have been promised for so many years?
If anyone can rise above the rumours and say exactly what is going on, the comment box below is available.