A ‘shady’ decision to reconfigure the layout of Hove Library has been met by outrage from campaigners, and is set to be challenged by the Conservatives and Greens.
Opposition councillors will call for a halt to any work on the Grade II-listed library after a planning application by the Labour-run local authority was approved by council officers instead of going before the planning committee for debate.
Campaigners fought against the sell off of the 1907 Carnegie building just two years ago and expressed shock when the plans to remove shelves on the ground floor to make way for an office were approved. The decision was delegated to planning officers as fewer than five objections were lodged within the 21-day consultation period.
But a further eight objections were made after the deadline on January 5, including one by ward councillor Andrew Wealls asking for the plans to go before the committee.
Concerns have been raised that holding the public consultation over the Christmas period meant residents did not have enough time to respond.
Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth said: “Residents and campaigners feel that the planning application was pushed through when the public at large was enjoying their Christmas with their loved ones, rather than looking at planning applications.
“As the cross-party library working group was not even told about the planning application, it might be considered shady.”
Objectors wrote to the council over fears of ‘further shrinkage of the library’ after the plans to remove bookshelves to replace it with an office were revealed.
The move is set to make way for a day nursery in the basement of the library, which is subject to a further planning application.
But conservation group The Brighton Society said on its website that the ‘radiating layout of bookshelves within the semi-circular plan of the library’ was one of the reasons the building is Grade II-listed, but said the council’s plans would see only three of the original seven bays of bookshelves remain.
“This will effectively destroy the existing character of the space and with it one of the main reasons for its listed status,” a Brighton Society spokesperson said. “That a council, one of whose duties is to conserve and protect our listed buildings, can propose such vandalism is a disgrace.”
Now the Conservatives are set to put a motion to Full Council on April 19 calling for a halt to works on Hove Library until the go-ahead is given by the Cross-Party Hove Library Working Group.
Conservative councillor Andrew Wealls, who wrote to planners to ask for the matter to go before the planning committee a week after the deadline, said: “I find it incredibly frustrating. The council has followed the rules with the 21-day consultation period, they are strictly correct, but the frustration is there is a council application on an incredibly sensitive public building that really needs, every step of the way, public consultation. Had it gone to planning committee there would have been a proper discussion on what was planned.”
Phelim Mac Cafferty, convenor of the Greens on Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “The campaign to save Hove Library in 2016 made it clear this is a well-loved space that helps to bring the community together. So residents are rightly shocked to learn that plans to change its purpose-built interior are underway.
“The usual custom and practice of the council allows for some flexibility about public comments received after the deadline. At planning committee this week I challenged the consultation period, because decisions that end up at committee often have late comments that are allowed to be taken into consideration. I am not the only one wondering why councillors were not given the opportunity to examine the plans fully at committee. Greens are looking at the avenues available to challenge these plans. Ultimately decisions about this valued library should be in the hands of the community who use it.”
Campaigners fought plans to the sell-off of the Carnegie building in 2016 – which would have seen the library moved into Hove Museum – and in 2003.
Brighton and Hove City Council said: “The planning application for Hove Library was given careful consideration and supported by heritage specialists at the council, and the process for dealing with it was the same as for any other application.
“The proposal was advertised on a notice outside the library on December 8. People were given 28 days to comment – a week longer than the statutory consultation period of 21 days. It was also advertised in the Brighton & Hove Independent on December 15.
“As we only received four objections within the consultation period, the application was decided by council officers rather than being referred to the planning committee, in line with normal planning procedure*.
“It is important that all applications are dealt with consistently and this means there is no scope for flexibility on how the procedure is applied. Late objections are only considered on applications already triggered, within the rules, to go to planning committee.
“The Scheme of Delegation (Pages 32/33) which is set out in council constitution is clear that five or more representations are needed within the consultation period to trigger a referral to committee. Only four were received within the consultation period. Nine further representations were received but they were outside of the consultation period.”