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Barnet Council has withdrawn its proposals to develop a major library at artsdepot in Finchley and announced plans to invest in the existing North Finchley Library as an alternative.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

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