THE public consultation into the proposed demolition of Redditch Library has been branded as ‘fundamentally flawed and open to judicial review’.
The verdict comes from London-based national charity The Library Campaign (TLC) which became so alarmed at the way the Redditch consultation was being conducted it sent its own observer to see it up close.
The consultation was launched by Worcestershire County Council into plans put forward by Redditch Town’s Fund Board and backed by the Redditch Borough Council to bulldoze the popular library building in the town centre and move the service further down Alcester Street to the Town Hall.
In its place they would create another square next to Mercian Square.
However in a scathing report TLC said the consultation had failed to adhere to the basic tenets of fairness as outlined in law – known as the ‘Gunning Principles’.
These are that a consultation should take place at time when the proposals are still at a formative stage.
That the proposer must give sufficient reasons for any proposal to ‘permit intelligent consideration and response’.
Adequate time must also be given for consideration and response, and that the ‘input from the consultation must be taken into account when finalising the proposals’.
However TLC claimed the entire consultation had been marred by ‘false and misleading information’ put out in print, on social media and verbally by ‘representatives of Redditch Borough Council’.
Furthermore it said that both Worcestershire County Council and Redditch Borough Council ‘were proceeding as if the move had already been sanctioned’.
‘Lack of understanding’
Laura Swaffield of TLC said: “I do not think anyone at Redditch Borough Council has any idea of what a library is and what it can do.
“When I visited it I was astonished as I had no idea what a fantastic programme of events was being put on there.”
And she praised Worcestershire County Council for the quality of its library service but questioned why it was prepared to take part in a costly exercise in Redditch which would see demolished a facility it had spent £1million upgrading recently and also see the loss of rental income from the Department of Work and Pensions based in the library.
A spokesperson from local campaign group Hands Off Redditch Library said: “Worcestershire County Council needs to take this report from TLC seriously.
“Like us, TLC carries no political bias and the fact that an independent, national body has gone to so much trouble to investigate this matter so thoroughly confirms there is something gravely wrong with both the relocation proposals and the consultation process.
“The report rightly praises the outstanding library service in Redditch, and clearly lays out the reasons why it should not be relocated.”
Coun Joe Baker, leader of the Labour Group said: “Once again we are in a situation where the public are fighting to make their voices heard, and Councillor Dormer’s Conservative Group are refusing to listen.”
He accused the council of treating it like a ‘box-ticking exercise’.
“A judicial review is costly and time consuming.”
He vowed – if Labour gained control of the council at the May elections – to stop Redditch Library being demolished by refusing to give it space in the Town Hall.
The councils’ responses
Coun Marcus Hart, Worcestershire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said: “The Library Campaign has been in contact and its views will be duly considered as part of the consultation.
“The county council is considering the outcome of the consultation and will report back to cabinet in early summer, whereupon a final decision about the proposed move of Redditch Library will be considered.
“The county council is fully aware of the legal principles required when conducting a public consultation such as this, and it does not accept The Library Campaign’s suggestion that it is ‘fundamentally flawed’.”
A Redditch Borough Council spokespersperson said: “On all of our publicity the council is clear that Redditch Library is a Worcestershire County Council service and the consultation has been run by them.
“We have also been clear that our proposals for the town centre are subject to the decisions made by the county council.”
Visit /librarycampaign.com/redditch-library-consultation/ to read the TLC report in full.