Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Library Meeting, Part One - The Situation So Far

The Parish Hall was packed! This picture was taken by Mari Fforde, and more pictures of the evening can be found on the HOWLS Facebook page. Apparently the drop-in session which started at 3.30pm was well attended too. At least five Town Councillors were present, as well as Kirsty Williams the Assembly Member (and Education Minister). Councillor Graham Brown, portfolio holder for Powys County Council, was invited to attend, but was apparently "out of town". When a substitute representative was asked for, apparently "no-one was available".

Anita Wright, of HOWLS (Hay-on-Wye Library Supporters) opened the meeting by emphasising what a valuable service to the community the Library is. Behind her on the wall was a banner made by the children of Hay School, saying We Love Our Library. Leia, a pupil at Gwernyfed School, read out a passage from an Ali Smith book, talking about how essential libraries are.
Anita said that there are 325 supporters of Hay in touch by email, and more who use snail mail.

Fiona Howard, the Mayor, stood up to give the story so far on what the Town Council has been doing. The Town Council has been asked by the PCC (Powys County Council) to pay half the costs of the library. They began by saying this would be £18,000 but later, when a representative of the PCC met with the Town Council, this was revised down to £14,000, after town councillors noticed mistakes in the figures the PCC was presenting to them.
The problem is that it is not legally possible for the Town Council to grant £14,000 to a single organisation - they kept mentioning Section 137, but I'm not sure which Act this is part of. The PCC said it would be fine, but One Voice Wales, which gives legal advice to local councils, advised against it (Rob Golesworthy put it as "Don't touch it with a barge pole").
The Town Council put a proposal to the PCC - they would take on the Library building, so that other groups could also use it, as long as they could have some income for that from the car park takings. Takings from the car park already contribute towards the cost of the toilets in town. This was rejected by the PCC. They said that Hay could not have both the Library building and the Council Chambers.
It was argued that the Library could be used as a community centre, since the old community centre has been knocked down and there seems to be no sign of a new one materialising, (the land is going to be used for housing), but this was rejected.
Fiona said that, five years ago, it was possible for the Town Council to take on interesting projects to improve Hay, like the Gliss re-development, but now all their time is taken up in running the services that used to be run by the PCC, like the toilets and the Sports Pavilion. And the town councillors are volunteers, doing the job without financial reward, and without the sort of support given by a County Council with paid staff. It's too much to expect volunteers to do (and it's no surprise that they find it difficult to recruit new councillors).
The Library service is a statutory service - the County Council have to provide a "comprehensive and efficient" library service according to the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act - so the responsibility shouldn't be shunted onto the Town Council.

But, the PCC have said that they want to move the Library into the new school building (when that actually happens - the date they're claiming at the moment is 2018). However, they need to save money in this coming financial year, which means that the library hours will be cut from 1st April if nothing else is agreed. Some of the cost for the past few years has been borne by Hay Festival, but that is coming to an end this financial year as well. So they're talking about the library being open for only 6 hours a week.

Richard Greatrex, also of HOWLS, was there to give some facts. He described the proposed move of the library to the school as a red herring, and gave some details of the plans for the new school.
The current library building covers 161 square metres.
The space available for a library on the school plans covers 52 square meters.
But the Chief Librarian, when asked about this, said that the plans had been mis-labelled, and the room next to the one marked "Library" was actually the space intended for the library. This room was marked "Community" and was supposed to be the replacement for the community centre. Which means that all the groups who used to use the community centre would be expected to cram into the 52 square metre room, and the library would have a room of 106 square metres. Still substantially smaller than the present library. And inadequate provision for a community centre, too.
Richard said that 17,065 people visited Hay Library last year, and over 19,000 books were borrowed. That's a lot of footfall to be tramping through the school grounds and building, and he was dubious about how the school would deal with this.
However, the library is much more than a room full of books. What the law says is that the PCC has to maintain the library service, which means the staff, and the ability to have inter-library loans and everything else that goes with that. Even if the library is moved to the school, the PCC are not committing themselves to funding that, even though it is a statutory requirement.


Anonymous said...

It is incorrect to say that the site of the former community centre is going to be used for housing. The planning authority has approved the access proposal, but it is far from clear as to how this will be delivered. And any housing on the site would need to be built on stilts, given the current drainage situation - which the local authority has had over 70 years to address, without success.

Eigon said...

I've seen plans for affordable housing on the community centre site, so I'd say that it's pretty certain that houses are going to be built there. I agree completely about the drainage problems.

Anonymous said...

The plans you've seen are ill-considered, and everyone with an ounce of sense knows it.

Eigon said...

I'd agree with you, but those are the only plans that I'm aware of for that piece of ground, ill-considered or not.