The library has deep cultural, historic and social significance.
Strength of public feeling towards Labour’s plans to close Hove Library was utterly predictable – a similar attempt to close the purpose-built institution in 2003 had to be abandoned following outcry from local residents after all.
Most streets in Hove now feature at least one of the distinctive ‘Save Hove Library’ posters and there is good reason for this. The library has deep cultural, historic and social significance. Any threat to its survival inevitably stirs emotions.
The working proposal essentially involves closing Hove Library and selling it off to the highest bidder. It would more than likely become flats. Some of the books would end up in a new extension at the rear of Hove Museum. Staff would be lost.
The campaign against closure has drawn support from all quarters and transcends any party affiliations. One leading campaigner is Chris Hawtree who many remember for his successful efforts to save the library back in 2003. He was also the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Hove in May. Other passionate supporters that I have chatted to at the library and on the doorstep include a broad range of individuals from all manner of backgrounds with many different motivations for involvement, with an equal proportion of Labour supporters in the mix.
The biggest concern of all is simply that the new facility will be inferior to the existing. It will be inferior due to the proposed size of the proposed rear extension at Hove Museum which would smaller than the current library building by some margin. It will be inferior due to its less central location. And it will be inferior through no longer being a dedicated facility.
My primary motivation for resisting the change is to make good on a pledge that I made on the doorsteps whilst campaigning for office. There has been little focus on Hove by Brighton and Hove City Council in recent years. With my Wish Ward colleague, Cllr Garry Peltzer Dunn, we promised to fight for investment in our town. A new roundabout on Goldstone Villas is the sum total of the council’s recent spend in Hove; and even that was a few years ago. Hove and Portslade pay 40 per cent of the council but receive nothing like that in return.
I also have concerns over the fact that building on the garden at the rear of Hove Museum would be taking away one of very few green spaces in the Westbourne area (a part of town that doesn’t contain a single children’s playground incidentally).
I have worries too about the finances of the proposal. My colleague Cllr Lee Wares in Patcham recently exposed the shocking figures behind the council’s Horsdean project in his ward – £2.4 million and counting for just twelve traveller pitches. That’s £200,000 per pitch (the build cost for a large house) within a facility that should consist simply of a concrete drive and some showers. I see a similar disaster in the making here.
There is some irony in there being a whole library full of words that could have been used to describe the fight against closure – but only three are actually needed to capture the public mood. Save. Hove. Library. It makes perfect sense.
Robert Nemeth is a Conservative councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council.
The response from the Labour Group, can be found here.