Residents launch 'Save Wimbledon Library' campaign over redevelopment fears
Residents have reacted angrily to a change in policy which could expose Wimbledon Library to developers and turn it into a "mixed use" development.
A 'Save Wimbledon Library' campaign has gathered momentum after Merton Council placed the listed building on its ‘sites and policies plan' - a list of sites earmarked for future development along with their agreed use to guide future development.
The council's vision for the site includes the allocation of space for a library, but allows for its future development to include an "appropriate mix" of community, retail, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, office and residential use - a policy document approved by councillors at a full council meeting on July 10.
A petition launched to protest the change in policy has already attracted more than 500 signatures with dozens turning up on Monday morning to protest outside the library.
Andrew Craig Nicol, who is leading the campaign and is also a volunteer at the library, said: "They have said that there are no plans for the site because there aren’t at the moment, but it’s a change of policy and opening it out to future planning submissions which is shocking.
"Who is to say what a library will be in the future.
"When we talk about opening the site out to other uses and enhanced uses this could be to pick up e-books in the back of a supermarket.
"It talks about an improved library space and modernisation and that Wimbledon community centre ‘may’ need to be in the site if not elsewhere.
"But there’s no firm commitment to community space.
"What talks a lot in that site is money as it’s probably worth about £30m as it is a central town centre location."
Conservative and Merton Coalition councillors had moved at a council meeting on July 10 to amend the wording of the document to ensure the library remained the building's primary use with any further uses ancillary to it, and that ground floor from the Broadway was retained.
In response to the amendment, which was defeated, Councillor Andrew Judge said: "We are committed to a first class library in Wimbledon Town Centre and retaining the beautiful arts and crafts building on the present site.
"We have absolutely no plans to move the library at all.
"However we do not know what opportunities will occur in Wimbledon town centre over the next few years and if a site became available that allowed us to build a much better library and community facility in the middle of the town centre we would want to examine it seriously.
"Adding the wording to the sites and policies document suggested that any other uses must be ancillary to the use of a library stymies what we could do with the existing site and would prevent us from examining the potential opportunities for a new better library and community facility."
Despite the council's own planning document clearly stating that a mixed use development on the site would be acceptable in the future, Councillor Nick Draper, cabinet member for community and culture maintained there were no plans to close the library or change its use.
He said: "We are fully committed to Wimbledon Library and will be investing in it and improving it over the next year.
"We are one of the only councils in London who have kept all their libraries open in these tough economic times, and we have actually extended our opening hours."
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