Artsdepot action forces Barnet Council to drop library proposal and will invests instead in North Finchley Library

I have today put out the statement below, with great regret, about the Library in the Artsdepot. Once the court case regarding the squatters in Friern Barnet Library has been resolved, I hope that those members of the community, that I know want a library to happen in Friary House, will work with us to make it happen and be as successful as the Community run library in the Garden Suburbs.

We will now move as quickly as possible to put the landmark library in to the North Finchley Library.

I recently visited the Library and saw for myself the great potential this has.

My statement –

Barnet Council has withdrawn its proposals to develop a major library at artsdepot in Finchley and announced plans to invest in the existing North Finchley Library as an alternative.

The council had planned to merge Friern Barnet Library and North Finchley Library into a new “landmark library” in the arts centre.

The council have been trying to negotiate for the past year with staff and board at artsdepot planning to add a major new library to the site and opened a small interim library in the building in April of this year.

Staff from the council had also been trying to discuss a joint bid to Arts Council England for a seven figure grant in addition to council investment. That would have enhanced facilities for both the new library and the arts offer at the building.

Cllr Robert Rams said “We had carried out, and funded, extensive work into a feasibility study of a Landmark Library at the artsdepot which had shown this building could have provided an amazing cultural offer in Finchley with a major library combined with artsdepot. Council staff have been trying to work with artsdepot staff on a variety of projects, as well as funding a piece of work to help strengthen their longer term financial security.

“Earlier staff from the council and artsdepot also worked successfully together to win a million pound bid from the Mayor’s Outer London Fund, with a further £379,000 contribution from the council, for the public spaces around the area.

“However the artsdepot board required a level of rent and service charge that makes the scheme unaffordable to the council and seemed to show little understanding of the financial pressures facing us as a council.

“The artsdepot board also asked us for an extra £80,000 “transition funding” for the next two years before agreeing to a joint bid to the Arts Council – a bid that was crucial to make the project work in terms of delivering some great benefit to the area.

“To make any scheme work we would need a firm basis of trust and partnership. But the board have decided that key staff cannot either speak or meet with both councillors and officers. In these circumstances I just cannot see how the project can go forward.

“We are now going to focus on investing in the existing North Finchley Library as an alternative.  We have already carried out a feasibility study to explore how we might invest in that library building and I don’t doubt we can improve on the current building. But I can’t help but feel we have lost the opportunity to create something really special at the artsdepot.”

Cllr Rams ruled out reopening Friern Barnet Library. “Friern Barnet closed because we had to make a saving to our ongoing revenue budget and that building’s closure is saving the taxpayer around £100,000 a year. The money from the sale of the building will be put back in to the library service. All council services are having to make savings at the moment, with our library Service making a saving of around £1.4 million over the period of the spending review. This is around two per cent of the overall financial saving the council has to make.”

Books from the library currently placed in the artsdeport building will move to Friary House for storage. Any discussion about a potential community library on that site will now have to wait until court action seeking the eviction of squatter from Friern Barnet library is complete.

The Aid Budget: Our Promise Down on Paper

I visited Bangladesh earlier in the year and saw for myself the difference our aid is making to people’s lives.

Statement on Church Farmhouse Museum

Following comments about the disposal of Church Farmhouse Museum’s collection, Councillor Robert Rams, Cabinet Member for Customer Access and Partnerships, has said:

“We have taken a great deal of care to make sure that any historically important material, both locally and nationally, has gone to the right place. We have also returned items loaned to the museum.

“But this has left us with many items that were largely used for decoration in the old museum. There is no real reason for the council to hold onto this material, so we’ve planned to auction items with no specific local connection.

“The money from these items will be used to fund the upkeep and development of the retained local items as well as helping us to maintain and develop the local studies collection.

“Where someone has evidence that they donated items, and would like them back, we are happy for people to contact us and discuss this with staff. In any event we will make the catalogue for auction available on our website. If there are items on this list, which the donor wishes to be returned, we would be happy to remove them from auction. But we will need evidence that the item was donated and that the correct person is making the claim.”

Material from Church Farmhouse Museum, has been given to: The Holley Cornelius Collection at Bletchley Park, Barnet Museum, Barnet Council Archives, London Screen Archives, Lauderdale House, The RAF Museum in Hendon and the Museum of London. Other museums were offered material but declined to accept it.  

“I am more than happy for Barnet Museum to suggest any more pieces they would like. But I think the idea that the council must forever pay to hold onto every single item no matter what, isn’t really practicable” said Cllr Rams.   

A list of the items will be posted on the council’s in the next day or two.

Anyone with enquiries about specific items should email mike.fahey@barnet.gov.uk