Council’s proposal for a new Northcote Library opposed by residents

4 mins read

Author: Cyril Richert

Wandsworth Council is proposing to replace the current Northcote library (corner of Northcote Road and Chatham Road) with a new facility located at the place of the current Chatham Hall (currently a community centre and nursery). A new community hall will be built on the site of the existing Chatham Hall and the current library will be transformed into residential units and retails (the Council owns both sites).

Proposed new library
Proposed new library
Proposed redevelopment of retails and residential units.
Proposed redevelopment of retails and residential units.

Proposed redevelopment of retails and residential units (view 2).
Proposed redevelopment of retails and residential units (view 2).

According to Wandsworth Council, the current library building’s flaws include restricted access to its first floor children’s library, no room to safely and securely store buggies, no space to provide computer access on the ground floor, obsolete and inflexible shelving which does not make the best use of the available space, while the building is poorly ventilated and lacking natural light with inadequate toilet and baby changing facilities. [1: see comments from the residents about those points at the bottom of this article]

The current Northcote library
The current Northcote library

The Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member (community services) Cllr Jonathan Cook said: “Our aim is to provide a brand-new library with a much greater range of services than is possible in the existing library building, which was built nearly 50 years ago and is no longer really adequate or suitable to meet the needs of today’s population. At a time when demand for library services is growing, and while other councils are axing their library network, we want to improve and expand our facilities in a building that’s fit for the 21st century.

As usual with money-tight (some say “carefully managed”) Wandsworth, it should all be financed by private money (no Council tax money used!): 9 residential flats would be built as part of the new library development while another 8, plus retail space for two shops, would be provided on the existing library site. The Council is also claiming that there will be no impact on parking as people purchasing or renting these properties would not be eligible for parking permits.

Aerial view of the sites
Aerial view of the sites

But a group of determined local residents is opposing the plan

Their main arguments against the current proposal are:-

  1. chatham-hall-nurseryThe Chatham Hall (built over 100 years ago, a vestige of Edwardian times) will be demolished. The hall is currently used by many outfits, Alphabet nursery, Fancy Footwork, Hatha Yoga, Mei Chuan, Rugby Tots and used for children’s parties. These outfits will no longer be able to operate from the hall during the time of the construction (although the Council claim that they will provide assistance to find suitable alternatives).
  2. Chatham Hall Alphabet Nursery (and playground) will be lost: after 27 years as a popular and busy nursery this OFSTED ‘outstanding’ nursery of 60 children is being forced out to make way for flats and a much smaller hall. Founded in 1989 with the same headmistress in place since 1990, the nursery (the staff, the parents, the children) do not want to be relocated; they will also lose the large Chatham Hall playground (it will disappear forever).
  3. The iconic Northcote Library will be demolished (when it could be simply refurbished) and sold to developers who will build 9 units.The proposed 3 floor library shows a reduction of nearly 30% from the space at the current library (the second floor will be dedicated to business and the first floor will have a business conference room).
  4. There will be immense pressure on parking (8 garages will be demolished under the current plan and inevitably there will be more parking required with business suite traffic, let alone visitors’ and tradesmen’s visits)
  5. This is a very high density development, inappropriate for the area: the 17 new flats will impact hugely on the residents of at least 30 existing homes – especially loss of light and privacy.
  6. Affordable housing is not included.

A successful public meeting organised showing the level of discontent in the local population

The Northcote Library & Chatham Hall Development Protest Group (‘Protest’ meaning, according to them, “We are not happy with the current proposed development. We would like Wandsworth Council to offer various options for development rather than just offering one plan“!) organised a public meeting on Tuesday 28th February at Honeywell School.

It was well attended with 4 Councillors in the names of Peter Dawson and Jane Dodd (Cllrs for Northcote ward and Tory members) and Fleur Anderson and Tony Belton (Labour Cllrs).

The head teacher of Alphabet Nursery explained that despite the Council claiming that they want to take into account the nursery needs, they have not given any reassurance (rather the opposite):

  • The new building is smaller (272 sqm compared to 300 sqm currently).
  • There won’t be any outdoor space.
  • Kitchen and toilets are outside the main hall (unlike currently) which makes things more difficult with small children.
  • For about 2 years the nursery will have to be relocated outside the area or close.

During a meeting last November (the only one attended by the nursery, despite Cllr Dawson presenting “alternative facts”) they were told by Wandsworth Council that the new hall will meet standard regulations for their purpose. However, developer said later that the Hall was never designed to host a nursery!

Chatham Hall with a large outside area/playground

Another speaker acclaimed the large space offered inside the current library with its double ceiling. According to her, to such comment, a Council officer responded that it was showing that the building was not fit for purpose… a waste of space! (meaning that the Council would rather prefer crowded rooms with low ceiling , every centimetre used as in some IKEA demo box!)

Inside the current Northcote library
Inside the current Northcote library, with space and high ceiling

A petition against the proposal has already attracted more than 650 signatures (and still counting). Maybe in the views of the Leader of Wandsworth Council, it will be disregarded as representing less than 0.22% of the total of Wandsworth borough inhabitants (click here to read how Cllr Govindia considers consultation results), but in the view of most local campaigners it is huge and shows the concerns of the local community with the proposal.

What to do NEXT

The proposal is currently at Feasibility Study stage until 11th March 2017 with the findings being assessed by the Wandsworth Council Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee in June.

Sign the petition HERE.

Residents who want more information can call (020) 7566 6463  or email Information is also available at

You can Have You Say online or by writing to:

Northcote Library Consultation
20 – 24 Old Street
(This is a FREEPOST address so postage payment is not required)

[1] Comments from the local residents denying the points raised by the Council to justify the proposal:


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CJI editor and Clapham Junction Action Group co-founder and coordinator since 2008, Cyril has lived in Clapham Junction since 2001.
He is also funder and CEO of Habilis-Digital Ltd, a digital agency creating and managing websites and Internet solutions.


  1. It is a shame when the first reaction to any proposal seems to be negative. I agree everything possible should be done to keep Alphabet Nursery and we should all urge the Council to do more to make this happen.

    As for the existing, library, although I happen to like the current interior, it is not well designed in terms of space utilisation or operational running costs, and the downstairs meeting room is dire. The current lift isn’t fine; there is not lots of shelving space and the toilets are a disgrace. If the new library is designed well, it could be much better than what we have today.

    Similarly, the new community centre could be far better than Chatham Hall, which is a very tired and limited facility.

    Do 17 flats really constitute “very high density development”? I don’t really think so.

    Rather than blindly opposing the plan, why don’t we concentrate on the points that really should be addressed: keeping Alphabet Nursery and providing affordable housing?

  2. Also, we could just ask the Council to give the current library the facelift that it needs, as they do have the money although they are strongly denying it. They will not publicise the figures.

    If it is really that important to the Council to provide the children and teenagers a better library, then they could give us a state of the art library without disturbing the asbestos and they could gear it to the kids and teenagers and get rid of the adult lending. They could give the playground at Chatham Hall an updated playground with a bouncy tarmac surface and a wooden play area.

    The promise of all these flats is leading us, the community, to understand that the sole reason for this proposal is for the Council to make money.

    They are not listening to the community. We fear that the proposals are the plans already concreted and ready to go and this is just a process.

    Please demonstrate strongly that they need to give the Community options rather than one unsatisfactory plan. The way to do this is to sign their questionnaires before 11th March, this is key. We can’t loose the face of Northcote Road forever, we don’t want a building that looks like any other generic building. Let’s embrace the Brutalist library with its iconic staircase and start working to make it put Northcote Road on the map. We could have a book festival for example. The possibilities are endless, but if they move the library to a boring new red brick building and smaller at that, it will loose it’s cool design forever. The library will be a function room rather like a doctor’s waiting room. Uninspiring and easy to close, should they decide numbers are declining in a few year’s time. This really is important to stand up to this now for generations to come.

  3. I approve of the council’s ambition to improve library facilities, community hall facilities and provide additional much-needed housing (no parking needed, in this area). However, I cannot see that a convincing case has been made to explain why the existing library must be demolished in order to achieve this. I would like to see a proper exploration of how it could be renovated, possibly extended upwards, and celebrated for the brutalist beauty that it is! Look at the Southbank for inspiration. Instead, more flats could be built on the Chatham Hall site which, being a deeper site, would also have the advantage of being quieter?

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