£172k capital injection for our library

2011-04-07-money-wheelbarrowLambeth Council proposes to spend £172,000 over the next two financial years (ie April 2013-March 2015) on capital investment at Tate South Lambeth Library. This is very welcome news for our chronically underfunded library.

First the basic sums

On 17th December 2012 the Council cabinet approved the Cooperative Libraries Capital Investment Programme Priorities 2013-16.  This document envisages up to £7 million in capital spending by the Council on public libraries, with funding to come from the sale of Council assets. Additional contributions – including from Section 106 funds (money that local developers contribute to public infrastructure) and the private sector – would bring the total capital spend over the two years to £12.9 million.

Eight spending priories are set out, including improving access, layout and design, creating a flexible space, and assuring a 30-year life for the buildings.

Addressing health and safety problems comes first on the list.

The allocation of capital spend as between the nine libraries has been determined essentially by specific physical conditions at those libraries, as assessed in recent surveys, and the potential for the development of more flexible use, as part of the community hubs agenda  (you can read the breakdown by library here).

TSL has by far the smallest allocation among the five “neighbourhood” libraries. The average for the other four (excluding Section 106 funding for Waterloo) is £439,000. Our allocation is low because TSL is one of the smaller buildings, has no serious structural problems, is not listed (listing involves requirements that raise costs) and no major building alterations are envisaged.

When will the spending start?

Work will begin once the Council has secured capital receipts from asset disposals, but planning can begin immediately on the assumption that contracts will be finalised. So it’s not yet a done deal, but at least the direction of travel has been set.

What will happen at TSL?

The appendix to the programme document gives a broad outline of the work to be carried out at each library.  In the case of TSL it says:

Priority building works as identified as part of prototype co-design process, working closely with the Friends of the library and Stockwell Partnership to agree priorities to deliver alongside health and safety works.

So the public response at the 1 November 2012 co-design open-day at the library, which came up with clearly defined local preferences for building improvements, will be taken into account. As will a set of proposals along the same lines earlier submitted by Friends to the co-design team. But the starting point for the work will be a condition survey, drawn up last August, which identified remedial work that needed to be done, costing an estimated £38,000. This covered work on the roof, ceilings, walls, floors, windows – all the basics. So there’s a margin for more comprehensive improvement (for example affecting energy efficiency, insulation and cooling), as well as for investment in expanding the facilities on offer and raising their quality.

With the bulk of TSL’s capital allocation assigned to April 2013-March 2014 (£107,000 out of £172,000), there should be some major movement soon.

An early win

In fact some of the work identified in the condition survey has already been done – Friends have cleared out the basement, to remove the fire risk there and expand the storage space (taking £1,500 off the condition survey’s bill of works).

And another important item is scheduled for the first months of 2013, before the two-year capital programme starts– new public toilets. This was top of the poll, by a very big margin, at the November co-design open day. Hallelujah.

We’re watching –

This capital allocation will serve to rectify years of inadequate maintenance. As things stand it is a one-off. So Friends will be on the look-out to check not only that the money is well spent, but that maintenance does not slip back. And we’ll continue to seek engagement by other partners in improving the building and facilities at TSL.

– particularly to see what benefit we get from the Vauxhall mega development

One area that we’ll pay particular attention to is any benefit for our library from the ongoing Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea development. (This would be in addition to the Council’s own fund allocation.)

The Council’s document refers to the “opportunities to stimulate investment in leisure and cultural activities” that VNEB will bring (through the funds that developers are required to contribute for local public infrastructure). The document sets out four priorities for any such investment; one of these is “libraries and places where residents and families can study and learn”. That sounds like TSL – which is easily the closest public library to the VNEB area.

In the past TSL has received very modest sums from the levy on developers (Section 106 money). Lambeth has so far got zero in the way of VNEB money for its public library service. We hope the Council’s endorsement of the capital investment document means that its officers will now make a major effort to win the benefits that are there for the taking – which would mean that the 2013/15 capital investment programme at TSL need not be a one-off.

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