Amanda Taylor

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Cambridge Central Library to close café and turn third floor over to ‘enterprise centre’

by admin on 17 March, 2015

Rural Tory and UKIP county councillors have today voted to convert the top floor of Cambridge Central Library into an enterprise centre run by an outside company (KORA), and to close the café.

Cllr Barbara Ashwood (Lib Dem) opened the debate by saying that while she is generally very supportive of the library service, she could not support this because of the paucity of background information. The report left her none the wiser, and she was not sure what was really meant by entrepreneurs’ lounge, international membership and the KORA Club. More information was needed on KORA and how the services would be reconfigured. She said she needed more detail before she could make this sort of commitment.
Amanda Taylor (Lib Dem) also spoke of the need for assurance about KORA and to know if they are good at what they do. Although independent, if they are located in the library they will be seen as part of the County Council and affect the Council’s own reputation. It would be bad to lose the café, which caters for parents & children and  pensioners, to whom it offers economical lunches – a welcome contrast to commercial outlets in the Grand Arcade. Ironically, bookshops are improving their resilience by augmenting the books sales with cafés, but we are told the County’s library café is losing money. Amanda said that before any decision is taken, there should be consultation with library users as well as a presentation by KORA.

Cllr Susan van de Ven (Lib Dem) described it as an ‘enormous change’ for one of our key public services and that it was our job to ask questions.  On behalf  of residents who had contacted her, she asked what would become of the Cambridgeshire Collection during the interim period before being rehoused in Ely.  She also asked how GCSE and A level students would cope if the library was closed during exam period.   She said she felt it was entirely reasonable to have an opportunity to question KORA before decision making, and felt this was not a decision that should be delegated.

Labour councillor Noel Kavanagh highlighted the risk involved — there are other facilities in Cambridge offering the same services such as the CUP Pitt Building and the University Centre which could be undermined. Any new café might well end up having to be closed at particular times to accommodate business events.

Tory, UKIP and Independent councillors all supported the proposals and talked of the need for assets to pay for themselves and of the potential international links as well as to skills & employment and the opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas.

Cllr van de Ven moved an amendment to the motion calling for a deferral pending a presentation from KORA, which I seconded. Unfortunately we were outvoted on the amendment and the original recommendation went through. 

For a copy of the report to councillors, see here:
38 Degrees is running a petition called Don’t privatise the third floor of Cambridge Central Library, in which they highlight the dubious tax arrangements of KORA’s parent company, the Regus Group. It’s already on over 600 signatures.

9 Responses

  1. Chris W says:

    This makes me really, really cross. If the café is losing money, look at making it commercially viable. It’s a lovely space, presumably built with tax payers’ money, and will now be given over to it’s not quite clear what. When space is removed from public use it very rarely comes back. Why weren’t the taxpayers who paid for this space consulted on its change of use? And why are rural councillors determining the future of something used mostly by city residents?

    • Dear Chris
      Thanks for your comment and I am also very cross, particularly as most councillors were unaware of the detailed plans until last week. I called for library users’ views to be taken into account before a decision is made, and for us to find out more about the organization wanting to open an enterprise centre there, as we know little about it. There will be consultation but there will be no opportunity for the committee to reconsider, so it sounds more like an announcement than consultation to me. We were outvoted on our amendment to defer and as things stand, the final decision to sign contracts is set to be taken by the chair (Tory Cllr Hickford) and vice-chair (UKIP Cllr Reeve) of the committee.

      To answer your question as to why rural councillors are deciding on a city facility, it’s because libraries are the responsibility of the County Council, which includes lots of rural areas; the committee comprises councillors from all over the county, including five from Cambridge.

      You might like to sign the 38 Degrees petition calling for a rethink:

  2. anadapter says:

    I understand that libraries have to diversify in order to keep going. That’s fine. But I worry that with this and the other proposals I’ve read about there will be less space for a library service and less money for buying books. That it will morph into a building that is used for various council services with books being pretty low down on the list. It would be nice if city residents got the chance to have their say about how they want their library to be run rather than have changes foisted upon us, though I suspect it may be too late.

  3. Dave Richardson says:

    There’s a lot to get angry about here. I’m surprised it’s possible to make such a big change without consultation. This seems like a completely inappropriate use of public space. The cafe provides an affordable alternative to the overpriced cafes in town – surely that’s worth preserving?

    Lastly, it seems undemocratic for councillors outside the city to force through a measure that will largely affect city residents.

    • We re fighting the decision and trying to get the County Council to review it. How they can justify making over a third of a public library with no consultation with the public or its own members is beyond me.

      Responding to your point on rural councillors deciding on a city facility, the decision was not taken SOLELY by rural councillors but by a committee comprising councillors from across the county including Cambridge-based ones like me. The rural councillors were the ones who voted for the proposal; all but one of the city-based county councillors voted to defer the decision.

  4. STOP PRESS: If any of you are able to be in town tomorrow lunchtime, I am meeting the organizer of the 38 Degrees petition and the Cambridge News at 1pm outside the entrance to the library. It would be good to meet any of you who can come along.

  5. Helen Harwood says:

    Several previous commenters have said, “It would be nice to have a say”. In fact the library service is currently running a very poorly advertised consultation about its “vision” for the next few years. Now would be a great time to make your comments.

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