Eat books! The future of Muswell Hill Library

It takes some leap of faith to believe that Haringey Council could deliver the ‘vision’ they have presented of a modernised and extended new Muswell Hill Library! Disabled access, fabulous facilities AND a restaurant!

But is it the right vision? Does Muswell Hill need another restaurant – and would the space be better used for something else? Or is the money from such use essential to get the best out of the rest of the space? Or should Haringey find extra funds from elsewhere (such as stopping any more over-spends on the notorious Tech Refresh IT fiasco!)?

I was expecting to have to make some difficult (and possibly unpopular!) decisions about exactly what combination would be best – and so to argue for. But Haringey has not provided the costings so we – the audience at a recent public meeting – were meant to take without question the assertion that the scheme couldn’t survive without the central ground floor part of the library being commercially leased out.

Since the dark days of ’98 when library borrowing was falling – due to Haringey Council’s ever decreasing opening hours and reducing numbers of books – a revival has been in train. However, the library itself is falling apart and this beautiful building needs a lot of money to not only restore its former glory but also to bring it, as a library, into the 21st century.

The most recent public meeting was reasonably receptive to the plans BUT there are some flies in the ointment that were raised which need swatting. First and foremost is the lack of rigour around the business plan that sees land sold-off for housing and the leasing of a central space in the library for a restaurant. Commercial confidentiality was the excuse for lack of figures – but there was no way that anyone could assess the merit or indeed, the viability, of the plan without some figures.

Do we need the restaurant? Could it be a space let for community functions or a coffee / reading shop? Did all the land need to be sold and if it is luxury housing – then surely the money would be more than was needed? And what other bits of land might the council be able to lease to those residents of Avenue Mews whose parking would be taken? Could some affordable housing be provided?

Local Muswell Hill residents (and their political representatives) need answers to these questions so that they can fully assess the benefits of what is being proposed and contribute to ideas around the usage of the central space. Haringey Council needs to trust local people more. Give us the real figures and facts – and then local people will want to contribute their ideas and views to make a judgement about what is actually needed to deliver a state of the art library – with or without a restaurant!