Labour Councillors have called on Westminster Council to come clean on why construction of the long-delayed Marylebone Library on Luxborough Street has yet to start. The new underground library was supposed to have been opened this summer but building work has yet to start.
Labour Councillors say that the Council has let down Marylebone residents as rumours abound that the current temporary library has been told to leave its Howard de Walden estate-owned premises in Beaumont Street and will be down-sized to a couple of shop units in New Cavendish Street until a permanent location can be found
According to Council documents, the new Marylebone library was supposed to be built and opened by ‘Spring 2015’; it was then revised to ‘Summer 2015’ and then ‘Late 2015’. The opening date was then further revised to ‘Early Summer 2016’ but, as of July 2016, work has still not started.
In addition, Labour say that the costs have soared from £12 million to £16.8 million and two contractors have departed from the project because of finance issues.
Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour’s Built Environment spokesperson said:
“This monumental failure to start work on this long-delayed major project demonstrates the Council’s incompetence when it comes to rebuilding Westminster’s public services. A public library that should have been open this month is still just a dream. No work has started, not a brick has been laid and soon Marylebone Library will be homeless and will have to move from its temporary Beaumont Street premises.”
Labour Councillors have asked repeated questions from Cabinet members and Council officers but have been given no information or details about why this project has been delayed, why the costs have increased and why there has been no public information. There needs to be a full inquiry in to the Council’s failures and the Council needs to come clean on what is happening to Marylebone Library and when a new permanent location will be found.”
The irony of the Council’s failure to build an underground Library in Luxborough Street is that, right from the start, it was a very unpopular location with many local residents. Now, by its sheer incompetence the Council has made some residents in Luxborough Street and elsewhere very pleased that the library will never be built!”
The Marylebone Library debacle – the full story
In July 2012 plans were approved to give Marylebone Library a new permanent location in Luxborough Street after it was chosen over a site in Moxon Street, primarily because the former offered better value for money and can be delivered quicker. Westminster City Council cabinet member for community services councillor Lee Rowley said the views and suggestions offered up by the community had been taken on board:
“On balance, we feel Luxborough Street is the best option. This site is … more accessible, as it is closer to bus routes and stations”.
The Council’s decision was not popular. The local press reported on 4th August 2012:
“Plans to “bury” Marylebone Library’s collection in a side-street basement have come under fire from residents and political opposition.
The Grade II-listed library in Marylebone Road is set to be sold to London Business School and relocated to Luxborough Street below a housing development.
A playground will have to be bulldozed for the 19 homes and subterranean reading room. This has sparked anger among campaigners who gathered more than 800 signatures to have the play area refurbished.
Yael Saunders, heading the campaign to save the playground, said: “It’s not just the playground, but also the library at stake here and I don’t see why we as a local community should have to put up with it.
“It seems a bonkers decision to put the library on a side-street where the access is very restricted and also when most of those consulted said they would prefer the library to be placed at the Moxon Street site.”
The temporary library, housed in the basement of Council House, will close in December and council bosses expect the new library – which officials say will be 75 per cent larger – will be ready in summer 2015.
The council’s cabinet opted for the Luxborough Street site over the larger and more popular Moxon Street site – currently a car park where a farmers market operates – because it will cost at least £3.3million less.
The borough’s Labour group has accused the Conservative-led council of trading in an iconic building for what will become a “second-class service” to save money.
Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg said: “Westminster Conservatives are short-changing Marylebone residents by burying the new library in a side-street hole in the ground, so that they can sell off the valuable Moxon Street site with no community facilities.
“This is a cynical and mean-minded proposal which devalues Westminster’s library service now and for the future.”
However, libraries boss Cllr Lee Rowley branded opponents as guilty of “cynical opportunism”.
He said: “This library will be in the heart of Marylebone, close to local amenities and it will be almost on Euston Road, only a few minutes’ walk from the current library. It will be much bigger with many more amenities and uses.”
The Council issues a newsletter announcing that the existing Marylebone Library will move to temporary premises in Beaumont Street until the new Luxborough Street library is open in ‘late 2015’.
In October 2013 a planning application for the new library was submitted jointly by Westminster Council and architects Child Graddon Lewis and Bisset Adams.
The £12m scheme would provide a much improved library, cafe, exhibition space and computer study areas on Luxborough Street in Marylebone, and would also include nine flats for private sale located on three storeys above the library.
According to the press:
“If planning permission is granted, the library would open its doors in Spring 2015, and would replace the current (temporary) Marylebone Library on Beaumont Street.”
In January 2014, Westminster Council gave planning permission for the new library.
The Council says the new library will be significantly bigger than the previous library – an increase in useable area of up to 75 per cent – and will have a community café overlooking the park, an exhibition area, meeting rooms for hire and a state-of-the-art computer study area.
It will also have a large feature-staircase that will connect the ground and lower floor levels, drawing natural light downwards, and will provide residents with more books and more space for studying, events and activities.
The Council also said that, as a direct result of resident feedback, plans have been changed to incorporate better security for the building; creating an entrance to the library from the park; relocating cycle space to reduce impact on local residents and to ensure that residential balconies.
However, in October 2014, the Council revealed that Marylebone’s library will not have a permanent home until at least 2016 after it came to light the council has asked its contractors to withdraw from the £12million project.
In answer to a question from Labour’s Finance spokesperson Councillor David Boothroyd, the Council revealed;
“The Marylebone library project has been delayed as the preferred bidder requested substantial changes to the Agreement for Lease and to the way they had proposed to finance the project. These changes were considered to be material in nature and such they created a procurement risk for the Council these that officers were unable to accept. As such the preferred bidder was asked to withdraw its tender, and this was formally received on 5 September, some seven months after the decision to award the contract. Officers are now engaged in retendering on a design and build basis, with the Council funding the scheme, which is considered more likely to be successful in the current market conditions. This has introduced a delay estimated at up to nine months in the project from the original anticipated completion date of October 2015 with a new timescale of early summer 2016 considered more achievable.”
Cllr Steve Summers, cabinet member for sports and leisure, said:
“The original development partner sought to amend the agreement in a way that would have meant we were unable to guarantee this, so in order to avoid further delays we are in the process of securing a new agreement and expect to make a positive announcement soon.”
“Our chief priority is to provide a state-of-the-art new library for local residents at a time when many libraries across the country are being closed.
“This has always been about protecting the interests of local residents and taxpayers by delivering a great new facility that represents value for money.”
The New Marylebone Library was set to open in October 2015 but the revised timetable envisaged that the library would be ready by the summer of 2016.
On 30th March 2015 the Council made the following decisions:
- The Cabinet Member for Finance, Corporate and Customer Services agreed to increase the Gross Capital budget to £16.8m (which is the cost of the development excluding the land cost) to fund the Design and Build of the new library and residential apartments.
- The Cabinet Member for Housing, Regeneration, Business and Economic Development agreed the transfer of the land from the HRA to the General Fund for the sum of £5.8 million. This transfer will initially be funded by a debt transfer from the HRA to the General Fund but then will be refunded by open market sales receipts from the disposal of the homes to be developed on the site.
- The Cabinet Member for Finance, Corporate and Customer Services agreed to enter into a Design & Build contract plus Development Management services, with Mace Ltd to deliver the new Marylebone Library and private housing on the site inLuxborough The Cabinet Member for Finance, Corporate and Customer Services agreed to delegate agreeing the detailed terms of the contract with Mace to the Executive Director of Growth, Planning and Housing.
On 7 June 2016, Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg asked Guy Slocombe, the Council’s Director of Property, Investment & Estates:
“What is the situation with the delayed Luxborough Street library and housing development?”
Mr Slocombe replied on 21 June 2016:
“The rationale behind the new Marylebone Library is determined by the Council’s desire to achieve the most appropriate balance between value for money and service to the community. We are working closely with Councillors to resolve the matter. Please address further enquiries on these matters to the appropriate Cabinet Member”
On 21st June 2016 Councillor Dimoldenberg wrote to Councillors David Harvey and Tim Mitchell
“I am being asked repeatedly by residents in Marylebone about the long delayed Luxborough Street library. The latest Marylebone Association report highlights the delays and asks when work will start. Please can I have an update from whoever is responsible as officers are clearly reluctant to let me know what is going on.
This is clearly a matter of great public interest and with rumours flying around about cost increases and alternative sites for the library it is only right that the situation is clarified now by the Cabinet members responsible. I look forward to hearing from you.”
As of 26th July there has been no response from either Councillors David Harvey and Tim Mitchell.