– by Bob Whitehead
Yesterday’s rally calling for the re-building of West Heath library on its old site was successful. After the years of delay, the broken promises and a fruitless appeal to the cabinet member responsible, a despondent and low attendance seemed likely.
However, as it turned out, there were about 50 people present, including many who were at the protest and demonstration around West Heath two years ago. All three Northfield councillors were present, (two Tory and one Labour), the Labour MP Richard Burden, and, surprisingly but most welcome, John Clancy the Council leader. As was pointed out during the speeches, this would never have happened when Albert Bore was in charge.
We read out the important parts of the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act, which specified the duty of the secretary of state to ensure an improving library service and the duty of local authorities to provide a comprehensive, efficient and free service, and one which did not discriminate in terms of access. (The 2010 anti-discrimination act is very relevant in this case).
The rally lasted for about an hour, during which time everyone who wished had their say, aided by Spoz’s PA system. The Councillors went first, all saying how important libraries were, and this one in particular and how they had worked hard to get it re-built on the old site, but no firm commitments were made. Supportive comments were also made by Richard Burden and John Clancy.
April has been deemed a month of consultation and the feeling of the citizens and residents who spoke afterwards was very clear; the new library has to be built in West Heath and not slotted into a spare room in Oddingley Hall in Kings Norton. Due to its unsuitability and inaccessibility, several people said they would not use that location.
Despite its run down state, the old one was popular; one young person said how she had used it regularly since being a small child and how it had really helped her. Speaker after speaker said how it was local and convenient and that was what was required again. The frustration at the constant delays and dashed hopes was palpable.
Solidarity greetings were given from the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, and we made it clear that we were not politically affiliated; we blamed the Government cuts to Birmingham City Council’s grant and the Labour administration for the fiasco. Greetings were also given from Birmingham NUT and from Spoz himself. Ex-Councillor Les Lawrence thanked the organisers of the protest for putting it on, and the rain held off until we were packing away. So overall a very useful morning out.
Now, will the local people get the treatment the Friends of the Library of Birmingham received last year during the consultation process? – be listened to, taken note of and then ignored? If so there will be a high political price to be paid by the politicians concerned. As soon as the details of the consultation process are announced it will be important that all concerned make their views clear, in what could be the last chance for West Heath to get the library it needs and deserves.