Anerley Town Hall is one of those Victorian projects that provide some of the few civic spaces left for local people. I’ve written to Bromley Council making clear that they need to secure its future, rather than continuing the neglect or flogging it off for a one-off lump of cash.
Here is my letter:
Dear Mr Thompson,
I am writing as a local resident and occasional Anerley Town Hall user to feed in my views on the four options you have circulated regarding the building’s future.
Regrettably, the council took the damaging decision to close the library service. This decision was the council’s, in view of funding cuts and the view – wrong in my opinion – that the new library in Penge made this facility unnecessary. But the library’s closure should not be taken as any indication of the building failing to provide value to the local community.
While the business centre is losing money, it is helping to keep 55 people in employment and keep money circulating in the local economy. Closing it now would cut the legs from under the local economy, and could have knock-on consequences for other businesses such as the parade of shops on Anerley Road.
As you note, the Crystal Palace Community Development Trust have succeeded in running a thriving community facility in their part of the building. This shows both that the building itself has a valuable role in the local community, and that the CPCDT have a solid track record.
There are no alternatives to this listed building in the area that offer the same space with a kitchen, toilets and parking. Redevelopment into residential or commercial uses would represent a huge loss to Anerley, an area that is among the most deprived in Bromley but also with potential to thrive given further support for community and business development. I believe that, under the CPCDT’s management, the whole building including the business centre could go from strength to strength, with efficiencies and innovation likely to arise from bringing management into one organisation.
In view of their success, I would prefer to see the council opt for option 2 – leasing the entire building to the CPCDT. I believe they are best placed to find viable uses for the building.
I believe the council should guarantee payment for the urgent subsidence works, and work with the CPCDT to find the best way to upgrade the telephony systems.
With respect to the car park, I am sympathetic to the idea of selling at least part of the car park for development. But this should be done with care not to affect the viability of the facilities, which will require some parking for loading and disabled access. It should also be accompanied by a transport plan to reduce private car usage in visiting the facilities, and to address any barriers to people taking the bus, walking or cycling to the facility. For example, the council should consider introducing a 20mph speed limit and cycle lanes on Anerley Road, and undertake a survey of current users to discover any holes in bus route coverage, working with TfL to resolve any issues that arise.
The future of Anerley Town Hall speaks to a wider potential for government to empower local people.
Government needn’t always do, it can also facilitate; it needn’t always do these things for local people, it can do things with them. Just as I want to see the council work with local groups to gradually improve Crystal Palace Park, and just as the Upper Norwood Library Trust are seeking council support to run a community facilities, so I think Bromley Council can work with the CPCDT to do something far more powerful in Anerley.
I don’t support the Conservative vision of a “Big Society” trying (without funding) to fill the hole left by government cuts. Bromley cannot just hand over the keys to the Crystal Palace Community Development Trust, without funding the work to stop the subsidence and upgrade the telephony systems.
But it would be in the spirit of the Victorian age to see Bromley treat Anerley Town Hall not as a council asset to be flogged off, nor a consumer product it delivers for local people, but as a civic space – a focal point in which government and locals work together for the benefit of the community.
Excellent letter, Tom!
The only bit I’d kind of disagree with is about the library. I think it’s great if people volunteer to help out in their local libraries, but I don’t like to see publicly funded and staffed libraries being replaced by so-called ‘community libraries’. I believe that public libraries are such an essential part of a decent, democratic, civilised society that they should always be publicly funded, and have professional library staff, even if they’re supported by volunteers.
On the Isle of Wight many of us fought a proposal to close 9 out of 11 libraries. We got thousands of signatures on our petitions, and dozens at demonstrations, and in the end all 11 libraries are still open. Even though only 6 are still staffed by paid librarians and 5 are staffed by volunteers, at least the buildings and books and other resources are still there, so that when we get a decent government again it will be possible for professional paid staff to work there again.
My local library in Ventnor was supported by almost everybody in the town – I can’t remember the numbers, but about half the population signed the petition. That’s because the two librarians there (one of whom has now retired, but she’s been replaced, so we still have two paid professional staff) had made the library such a welcoming place, and had done so much work with the local schools. Almost every child in the town has a library card. That’s the difference good professional librarians can make!
Best of luck with this campaign.
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