The battle to save South Norwood library continued on Tuesday when protesters and Croydon residents put council candidates on the spot during an online meeting demanding answers about what the future held.
The group campaigning to save the library, Friends of South Norwood Library (FOSNL), organised a Zoom Q&A on 27 April for local constituents and for FOSNL to pose questions.
South Norwood library is one of five libraries set to close due to funding cuts made by the local authority, reducing library numbers in the area from 13 to eight. The other libraries that may close are Bradmore Green, Sanderstead, Shirley and Broadgreen. This is due to the local authority cutting £500,000 from the library budget.
The lack of transparency from the council was a focal point at the meeting as Mary Hennock, a FOSNL member, described the consultation process as “tokenistic and rushed” and the proposed figures released by Croydon council were described as “puzzling.”
The council have previously said that it would cost £400,00 to have the library back up and running. An amount Angela Kaler, Independent candidate and property professional, saw as “inflated”. She said: “Those figures are over inflated…we could put up two new build houses fully kitted out from the ground up for that cost and we do not need to rebuild a whole new library.”
Although Hennock urged candidates not to resort to point scoring along standard party lines, the meeting soon resulted in finger pointing between Labour candidates Mike Bonello and Louis Carserides and Conservative candidate Sonia Marinello. Although all of the candidates agreed that the closure of the library would be detrimental to the community, they disagreed as to who was to blame.
Bonello, who has said he will not vote to close the library, said: “Why are we facing this…Hammid Ali the leader of our council is faced with a situation 78%[cuts]…that is where we have been put by this government.”
Marniello said: “There is something quite clearly wrong with Croydon labour because they have mismanaged funds.” She also put the blame onto Croydon councils’ investments of over £200m into property development company Brick by Brick. The council has invested a large sum of money into the company and investments like that one are thought to have led to the borough declaring itself bankrupt in late 2020.
When asked what she would do to save the library if elected, she said: “I would be a voice for you and will be championing this cause.” However, Marniello did not discuss nor clarify the actual steps she would take to protect the library.
Pete Underwood, Green Party candidate, said that there hadn’t been any honesty from the council regarding the complete council accounts and claimed a “quick skim through” would reveal plenty of other areas that could be cut. He suggested cutting the “hyperinflated” salaries of senior staff of the council. Underwood said: “We need to go back and challenge the fundamental questions of why they are choosing to cut services for the most vulnerable.”
When asked what he would do if elected he said: “People have discussed the cuts the Conservatives have made to local authorities, we’ll rectify that when we get a sensible government in place…Labour has messed up the finances and that will take a couple of years to sort out, but it is still a temporary situation, we shouldn’t be making permanent changes to the library service.”
FOSNL as well as the residents are adamant that the closures of the South Norwood Library as well as the four others in borough will be detrimental to the people living in the area and heighten austerity.
FOSNL’s Jacob Lant told EastLondonLines: “It was a good clean fight, with lots of good suggestions put forward to protect our library. We heard everything from promises to challenge the cabinet to launching legal proceedings against the consultation.”