Lambeth council’s planning committee last night backed an application to excavate the basement of the Carnegie library in Herne Hill so that it can be used as a gym run by the council’s leisure provider GLL.
Other changes to the building the committee agreed include a new entrance and a reduction in size of the library’s garden.
The committee imposed a “specific use condition” on the ground floor to say that its only use must be as a library and “community space”.
Campaigners have said that community use of the ground floor, which used to house the regular library, could involve “high impact” exercising and other activities likely to distract from any use as a library.
The committee agreed several minor conditions and notes of advice on issues including baby-changing facilities, traffic, maintenance and the effect that the new entrance might have on the overall look of the building.
It also agreed that there should be a community liaison group that would monitor the conversion work and other issues like increased traffic, noise and disruption.
The council closed the Carnegie and the Minet library in Myatt’s Fields last year after an occupation of the Carnegie and, it said, to prepare them for conversion to “community hubs”, with some library provision and gyms.
The meeting took place under the eyes of a dozen security officers in high-visibility jackets and three or four police officers. Access was strictly controlled “for health and safety reasons” and bags were searched.
The council introduced new security measures for its committee meetings following disturbances and verbal threats to a council staff member after a planning committee meeting last year that agreed to Network Rail’s plans for its Brixton arches.
Despite some shouts of dissent, applause for points in their favour and sarcastic laughter, the protesters, who silently held up signs urging committee members to “listen to the people”, did nothing to disrupt the meeting.
This was left to the committee’s lone Conservative party member, Bernard Gentry, who repeatedly interrupted a contribution in favour of the planning application by Herne Hill Labour councillor Jim Dickson.
Dickson spoke of the effect of central government cuts on council finances, but Gentry stopped him several times, saying that this was not an issue that the planning committee should or could consider.
Committee chair Claire Wilcox briefly adjourned the meeting. It continued uninterrupted after a few minutes, apart from some unsuccessful attempts to intervene by the council’s only Green party member Scott Ainslie (Streatham, St Leonards).
He had earlier released the statement that he would have made, pointing out that there had been 316 objections to the planning application and only five comments in support of it.
After the meeting the Defend the Ten campaign, which has led the fight against the council’s plans for its libraries, said that work on the Carnegie building would cost the council £3m.
The campaigners said their alternative plan would preserve all of Lambeth’s 10 libraries and save money.
“Councillor Jim Dickson argued at the meeting that the mad waste of £3m is necessary because of government cuts,” said Defend the Ten.
Speaking after the meeting, Dickson said that the cost of the conversion of the Carnegie building would be nearer £1m than £2m.
He said the building needed investment to enable it to be used in extra ways to bring in the money needed to keep it open.
Estimated income from new uses for the building enabled by the conversion would be £180,000 a year, meaning that the cost would be paid back over six or seven years and preserve the building and library provision in it.
He pointed out that the new community liaison group was his suggestion and said that it would be particularly for people living near the building and who were concerned about the effect the changes might have on their lives through increased traffic, noise, disruption and similar issues.
It would meet regularly and have dialogue with Lambeth council and GLL, enabling local residents to object and get changes to plans for the building.
Two groups, the Carnegie Community Trust and Friends of Carnegie Library, are competing to take over the Carnegie library building and run the parts of it not used as the GLL gym as a community trust.
Dickson said he regretted that there had not been a united single bid. The council’s decision on which group will be chosen, taken with the help of an independent assessor, is expected in six to eight weeks.
Dickson said he hoped the community would unite around whichever group was chosen.