Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Strood library move protests and Medway Council

One of the hot topics to hit the Medway Political scene at the moment is the proposed move of Strood Library from its current spot on Bryant Road, where it shares a building with the popular Community Hall and has parking for up to ten cars, to the main high street in a rented retail outlet that is currently home to a Community project.

There has been a lot of angry protests online, in local newspapers and indeed at the Full Council meeting on the 23rd January where placards were held and the disruption caused by the blunt and arguably rude answers received from the Conservative benches caused an outbreak of civil unrest which halted the meeting – twice – and resulted in the ejection of most of the Public Gallery. One of the causes was Councillor Chitty’s dismissal of the 5000 strong petition that was handed in objecting to the move because not all the signatories lived in Strood, in fact some were from Higham and Maidstone, overlooking the fact that residents of Higham may still use Strood library.

The Council has been working on the creation of Community Hubs within the Medway towns for quite some time. In the Council’s Cultural Strategy (2009-14) it proposes that all Library and Council services should be housed in central locations and one building making the Council that much more accessible. [1
] This has been a process that has been on going and debated at Gunwharf openly for some time. The Council plans for Strood Library have it put in a much more accessible location near really good parking and on the bus routes so that the elderly, who are the Library’s key demographic, can get there more easily and anyone who needs the Hub can just nip in whilst doing their shopping in the centre of town. All very compelling reasons to have the Library move.

So why the objections?

There are several on-going arguments about the relocation and what it would mean for Strood which the Council has argued against. Firstly that the Community project, which does a lot of good within Strood, is being evicted has been turned over because their lease has run out with the Private landlord. It is unfortunate but the Council argue it is coincidental and they should be rehoused within five to six months. Secondly, Councillor Stephen Hubbard of the Labour group points out on their website that the Tories are “milking the cash cow” of parking in the centre of Strood and that Labour don’t want the original building pulled down for high density housing as Strood is already too overcrowded. [2
] This is despite the fact that the Library has only ten spaces and whose key demographic would tend to use Public transport for free rather than drive and that no one has stated that there was a plan to redevelop the original site.

Medway Council has said that it will keep the local Community hall, the only one of its kind in Strood, for the youth groups and programs such as Judo, Ballet, talks, children’s activities and any other local Community group that wanted to use it which is a welcome move however it does beg the question about why move the Library out of that building and add another expense to the Public purse by renting a smaller shop space.

Another issue that has been raised is that of Public safety. Kim West raised warnings of at least eight crashes outside the proposed location since August last year (3 KM Medway Extra 29-1-14) and that one car almost went through the window. This has been treated as circumstantial and dismissed by Councillor Doe at Full Council who focused on the revitalising effect the move will have on the High Street and the shops.

The biggest problem has been that the Library’s move has been symptomatic of the way the Conservative Council has dealt with things recently. They haven’t listened to the public in the consultations, in fact Councillor Chitty responded at Full Council that Consultations are for informing the community of the Council’s decisions and not for helping to formulate a final decision. This was the same for the airport redevelopment and for the elderly care homes at Nelson’s Court and Robert Been Lodge. The basics of Consultation, where objections and problems can be aired and discussed before the council makes a decision are being totally disregarded and that is what has angered the protesters and the wider politico audience within Medway – the simple fact that they aren’t and won’t listen. If they did they might have taken into account the fact that two days a week the Strood Carparks are taken over by Market stalls effectively nullifying the extra parking, listened to concerns from people like Kim West, or they would have taken the petition and revaluated that this was clearly an issue the people of Strood feel strongly about rather than rubbishing it in Full Council.

Although this is an important topic for the people of Strood and has compelling arguments for both sides of the debate but the reason it has attracted so much anger and resentment is that the Council has, yet again disregarded what the public have to say and have yet again ploughed on regardless and handling the public.

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