Lib Dems lead challenge to Tory library plans

Nine Liberal Democrat county councillors have hit back against Conservative plans to allow a private company to take over the third floor of Cambridge Central Library – plans that were voted through by an unholy alliance of UKIP and Conservative councillors plus Cambridge’s one independent councillor, John Hipkin. The Lib Dems have called for the decision to be reconsidered so that councillors can be fully informed about this company and so that consultation with the public can be carried out.

Our request for a review of the decision has been successful and it will be looked at again by a committee of senior councillors on 14th April (10am at Shire Hall). Councillors do not know enough about KORA, the company set to take over the third floor and before we take a decision like this, we need much more information is needed both about them and about how they would be operating: for example, would people have to pay to sit and read in that part of the library under their management in future? We are also also angry that despite the talks having started over 18 months ago, library users were not given a say before such a huge change was agreed. It is after all a PUBLIC library.

There are strong objections to the loss of library space for the public as well as concerns about the Cambridgeshire Collection and the library café.

The General Purposes Committee is being asked to:

“…consider the decision and either:
i) Dismiss the decision review request with the effect that the original decision shall stand, or
ii) Refer the decision back to the Highways and Community Infrastructure Committee for re-consideration including a recommendation from General Purposes Committee.”

For the full report click here.GPC library call-in_150414-3a

The committee will also receive a 3,000-signature public petition against the proposals.

Cambridge Central Library plans — who knew? Tory Leader knew last year.

Tory county councillors and officers have been talking to KORA for over a year about their opening an Enterprise Centre in Cambridge Central Library, and the Tory Leader of the Council has admitted he knew about a year ago – yet defends the secrecy.

Cllr Steve Count is Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, and last year was the councillor in charge of library services. At this week’s council meeting I asked him how long he had known about the plans to allow KORA to create an Enterprise Centre in the library.

Cllr Amanda Taylor: My question is to the Leader of the Council and it relates to the Council’s plans to allow a private firm, KORA, to take over the third floor of the Central Library which, as the councillor knows, has caused consternation amongst the people of Cambridge.

My question is a simple one and I hope that you will be able to answer it simply:


Cllr Steve Count: Yeah, thank you, thank you. I couldn’t give you the exact date. I certainly believe that I was the Cabinet Member for Resources & Performance (May 2013-May 2014) so we’re going back quite a while ago when the idea first got discussed. Now after leaving that position … err, not leaving, being kicked out under the new system is more appropriate!  … after changing that position, that went to the Highways and Community Infrastructure Committee which Roger is chairman of, and plans, I guess, continued to be worked up there. How much involvement before it went to the papers I don’t know, but that’s my total answer I can give you.

Cllr Taylor: As the Leader of the Council now, I would assumethat although Cllr Hickford is chair of the HCI committee, I assume that you still had knowledge of these matters. Do you agree that in hindsight it would have been appropriate to have made these negotiations known to members of this Council more than a week before the committee at which this was debated and agreed?

Cllr Count: No, I can’t support that and I’ll tell you why. The reason I didn’t make anything available to anyone else whilst I was the Cabinet Member is that it never got to the stage that there was a formal proposal on the table. The discussions batted backwards and forwards between us and the officers as to whether it would ever ever ever come to fruition.

Now I know that I lost track of it to a certain degree after it went to H&CI – but there is a confidential element to this and actually building up the business case on whether it was something we would ever want to do was based on that confidential information. You wouldn’t go out and want to start hares running before you could actually know something was going to happen at the end of the day. So no, I think that I’m comfortable in my decision on that.


for the streaming of the council meeting. My question comes 2 h 25m into the video.

Cambridge Central Library: huge public outcry

Cambridge Library_VJSThe people of Cambridge have reacted angrily to Cambridgeshire County Council‘s decision to allow a private firm to take over the third floor of Cambridge Central Library to create an Enterprise Centre. A petition launched by local resident Claire Dylan has attracted over 1,300 signatures in just a few days.

The decision was made on Tuesday by a council committee comprising councillors from all over Cambridgeshire. Although most of the councillors representing city wards criticized the proposal, councillors representing the villages in the rest of the Cambridgeshire outvoted us. For a report on how the meeting went see here, and for the council report see here.

We have big doubts about KORA, the company set to take over the third floor of the library, and we need much more information on them and how they would be operating: for example, would people have to pay to sit and read in that part of the library under their management in future? We also strongly believe that the library members should have a say in such a huge change, as well as the public of Cambridge. It is after all a PUBLIC LIBRARY.
My colleagues and I have called for the decision to be reconsidered so that councillors can be fully informed about this company and so that consultation with the public can be carried out. Our call-in has been successful and this will be looked at again by a committee of senior councillors on 14th April (10am).
Huge thanks to all those who turned out today to demonstrate public dismay at the proposals and to meet Julian Huppert MP, who is backing the project.

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

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.

Rediscover the Rock Road of 100 years ago

As the chilling stories of the First World War are retold in this centenary commemoration, do you sometimes wonder what everyday life was like in 1914 in this area? Not just for those at the front, but for children, wives and families at home; for land girls, conscientious objectors, and other non-combatants?

The Friends of Rock Road Library have been awarded a £9,500 grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a two year project documenting the area around the Library during the First World War.Since then they have been researching the impact of WWI on the lives of people in this area.

In ten days time, 27th November, the Friends will be opening their ‘Stories from a Neighbourhood’ exhibition to showcase their findings, telling the story of the Rock Road area at war through maps, photographs, biographies, souvenirs and newspaper articles about the people who lived in our houses 100 years ago. The launch event on the 27th will have the bonus of a talk about First World War Cambridge by local historian Mike Petty.

The event starts at 8pm, viewing at 7.30pm.

Cutting the tape: Vice-Chair and Mayor join locals to celebrate library transformation

RRL tape Last night, the new Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Gerri Bird, and the vice-chair of Cambridgeshire County Council, Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, came to cut the tape across the new doors to the library garden and to help us launch the new community room.

We heard from the Friends of Rock Road Library Treasurer James Berry about how the Friends had come into being; standing up for the library when it was under threat, and later working to achieve the improvements that we celebrated last night. We were also treated to a stimulating talk by Mr Owers of NARB Architects on potential future developments at the library.

The library was packed – in addition to our special guests, there were library professionals who had come to look, community development workers, volunteers, Friends, readers galore, several councillors — and as you can see in the picture, the library’s younger members were out in force!

The new community room is currently displaying original illustrations by Arthur Rackham, the artist of Alice in Wonderland and both the creator and inspirer of the Mad Hatter. It is hoped to put on more displays of this nature and ideas are welcome. The room will also be available for use by local groups Monday-Saturday, and booking charges start from just £4 an hour. To book, ring 01223 728530 or email [email protected]

Three men in a boat in a library

Three men in a boat

The Friends of Rock Road Library invite local residents to enjoy a dramatisation of Jerome K Jerome’s comic novel Three Men in a Boat – a one-man show by local actor Geoff Hales.

The show is at Rock Road Library and starts at 8 p.m. after a welcome drink. There is no fixed charge but the Friends invite the audience to donate towards their funds, which go back into events such as this.

Geoff Hales read English at Cambridge, went away and came back! He runs his own theatre company, ‘Travelling Theatre’, which performs one-man shows about great writers. He has appeared all over England and in Prague, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Germany and Switzerland.

Three Men in a Boat was first published in 1899 and has never been out of print since. Come and see why!


The Friends of Rock Road Library support the work of the library and arrange community events to support it. The Friends Group originally came into being to create a garden at the back of the library. See

They supported the library throughout the period of threatened cuts to its funding.


Rock Road Library is on Rock Road, between Cherry Hinton Road and Blinco Grove.

Cambridgeshire volunteers first winners of new award

When Cambridgeshire libraries put out a call for volunteers a couple of years ago, both the Library Service and the Friends were delighted with the numbers of people who came forward. At Rock Road Library, people come to help with gardening, reading with children, giving talks, and telling stories. I’ve seen people of all ages taking part, from the under-8s to the over-80s.

Now the willingness of local people to get stuck in with supporting these great community services has been recognized with a special award.

Cambridgeshire’s Library and Archive Service has been presented with the Five Star Focus Award for its volunteering programme by Volunteering, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, a partnership of Volunteer Centres.

Not only that, but the Library & Service is the first winner in the county.

Cambridgeshire Libraries, and Archives have a wide range of valuable volunteers of all ages – from Computer Buddie and Rhymetime Assistants to the Library at Home service.

Anyone interested in a volunteering opportunity with Cambridgeshire Libraries and Archives can find out more on the Cambridgeshire County Council website, at

Who was Queen Edith?

Who was Queen Edith, and why is the south-eastern tip of Cambridge named after a queen who was born before the 11th-century architects had designed the castle?

When 21st-century architect Jeremy Lander moved to Nightingale Avenue in Queen Edith’s, he was intrigued as to how the area got its name. At the time he had no idea of the connection between his children’s school, the Queen Edith Primary School and King Harold, let alone an obscure Saxon noblewoman called Edith Swan Neck …

When Jeremy asked people why the area was named Queen Edith’s, he was told it was named after Queen Edith the wife of Edward the Confessor. He was left ‘unsatisfied’ by this explanation, and, in his own words, ‘dug a little deeper’.

He will be sharing his discoveries at Rock Road Library on Wednesday 2nd October with a talk entitled The story of a Saxon king, his lover, and a Cambridge suburb.

The event is being arranged by the Friends of Rock Road Library, and is free of charge, though donations are welcome. Refreshments are provided. No need to book; just turn up on the night. Doors open at 7.45pm.

Wednesday 2nd October, 8-9.30pm, Rock Road Library, 8-9.30pm.

Postscript: For those who were unable to get to Jeremy’s talk, here is a link to his post on Queen Edith’s identity and the history of our area:

An afternoon out with the Cambridgeshire Mobile Library service

bookshelf-1As a newly elected county councillor, I have been spending the summer getting to know council services better, and I recently had an afternoon on the Mobile Library bus with Ally Clarke, the Mobile Library Manager.

After a slight blip due to a delayed train, I’m pleased to see the mobile bus drive into Shepreth Station to pick me up, and Ally welcomes me on board. Ally’s been doing the job for an amazing 23 years, and has known some of the readers since they were small children. Nevertheless, she still has incredible levels of enthusiasm and energy – plus new ideas.

She showed me round the bus – kitted out with a good range, comprising various genres of fiction, non-fiction including lots of biography, audio books and magazines. There’s also plenty of large-print and children’s books.

Many of the readers are older people, but there are also a lot of people with young children. During term time, the bus stops at schools as classes finish, so that children can choose their own books. The mobile library service runs on a monthly cycle. Mobile library readers are allowed longer than the standard borrowing period, in order to read their books to fit in with the schedule.

We are on Route 23 today, 4th Tuesday of the month. It went to Whaddon, Meldreth and Melbourn this morning and I am joining it for the afternoon. (more…)