Controversial new library opens in Northcote Road

4 mins read
New Northcote Library

Earlier this month, the new Northcote library opened its doors, replacing its predecessor from the 1960s still standing a few meters away on the other side of the road. The new library boasts a larger and more advanced building, offering three storeys of modern amenities.

Some notable improvements include a dedicated and enhanced children’s section (at the back of the ground floor), expanded study spaces, self-service kiosks for book borrowing, upgraded computer and digital learning areas, a meeting space, and improved restroom facilities.

First floor of the library
Second floor in the library with tablets and computers available

The usable floor space has been increased to 848 square meters, surpassing the previous library’s 728 square meters.

A local resident commented:

“Spacey inside, but my guess is that, when those that are proud of it have finished checking, those working there will change things around a bit! The ceiling seems un-finished … or maybe this is what some of them call ‘new architecture’!”

Adjacent to the library, a new community center is apparently set to open soon, catering to local groups with a nursery area.

The former Northcote library is still waiting for demolition to be transformed into a block of flats (no affordable housing).

The old library is ready for demolition with contractors being busy preparing for the site work
Proposed redevelopment of retails and residential units (as proposed in 2017)

Eco-Friendly library

The newly constructed library incorporates a range of environmentally friendly enhancements.

Electricity for the facility is generated by solar panels installed on the roof, thereby providing power while minimizing the environmental impact. Additionally, the library is fitted with double glazed windows and efficient insulation, effectively reducing energy consumption and maintaining optimal temperatures within the building throughout both the winter and summer seasons.

The Council reports that the library is also equipped with the latest air source heat pump technology, which not only helps conserve energy but also ensures a pleasant and comfortable environment throughout the premises.

Judi Gasser, Wandsworth’s Cabinet Member for Environment said:

“This brand-new state-of-the-art library in Battersea boasts the latest carbon reduction technology, making it one of the most eco-friendly libraries in the country. Utilising solar energy and air source heat pump technology, along with a host of other measures, means our new library is much more sustainable than its predecessor and much more energy efficient.”

However, knowing that the former library was build more than 50 years ago, it is difficult to imagine that a modern construction nowadays would have been less sustainable and less energy efficient.

A very controversial construction

Local residents largely opposed the proposal and presented many reasons against the construction of a new library.

They argued that the current building was not in a state of disrepair as claimed by the council.

The old library

In addition, they said that the new plans for the building failed to address concerns about the height of the structure, which would block light for neighboring houses and create privacy and security risks.

The mass of the new library as seen from adjoining properties

The new building is three storeys high, while the houses along Bramfield are only two storeys high. Therefore, the new structure takes away the light, especially during winter time.

The new residential building, still under construction, overshadowing the residential property of Bramfield Road. Screening and glazing are being installed on the new building to preserve the privacy of the existing properties.

Last but not least, it is worth pointing out that the final construction bears little resemblance to the original proposal presented to the local community.

The new library and additional residential units now occupy the site previously taken up by garages and the low-rise structure of Chatham Hall (built over 100 years ago, a vestige of Edwardian times).

Chatham Hall
The Alphabet Nursery in Chaltham Hall

The hall was used by many outfits, including the Alphabet Nursery, Fancy Footwork, Hatha Yoga, Mei Chuan, Rugby Tots, and for children’s parties. The nursery said that not only could the new layout not provide the necessary facilities for them to operate (no outdoor space for the children), but all the alternatives the Council claimed to provide were, in reality, nonexistent.

In addition, all other groups using the facility said they were not even approached or considered in the relocation plans, contrary to the Council’s claim of working with them.

Labour opposed the plan… and now is tacking credit for it

Local residents voiced their objections at a public meeting in February 2017, highlighting issues such as insufficient space for events and unease about sharing the library with a business suite.  Two Labour Councillors, Fleur Anderson (now MP for Putney) and Tony Belton (now chair of the Planning Application Committee) attended the meeting and  sympathised with the local resident’s concerns.

In September 2017, Councillors from the Overview & Scrutiny Committee were asked to back the scheme and the meeting reflected the division on party line : Conservatives all in favour of the plan supported by Cllr Dawson and Cllr Cook, Labour Councillors taking local residents’ side and opposing the proposal.

Knowing the controversy that occurred in the past, with Labour councillors criticising the “pet project” of former Tory Councillor John Dawson, it is awkward to see the Labour administration trying to take credit for the achievement. They have clearly nothing to do with the plan which originated 5 years ago and was achieved this year, but it does not prevent the Council to claim:

“Residents here now have a bigger and better fully modernised library with a larger children’s section. […] This is a council listening to people and delivering better services for the same low council tax.”

Local residents said that this is a total absence of memory and at odd with their previous position on the library plans. They said:

“The feeling we had was what a wasted opportunity!”

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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.