Chislehurst Library Redevelopment Latest
I am writing to update you as to the current status of Chislehurst Library following enquiries from residents and my meeting with the Town Team last week. With this letter I hope to inform you of the of current position, the process and the next steps. Firstly, it is a point worth noting that whilst Boroughs across London are reducing their library services, Bromley Council is committed to maintaining and enhancing ours. As a member led local authority Bromley are not closing their libraries but instead are building new ones.
Chislehurst Library is a valued facility and focal point for the local community offering a wide range of stock and resources. It provides a number of activities for children and adults as well as limited IT facilities. Regular activities at Chislehurst Library, aimed at different age groups, range from a Dementia Coffee Morning to Baby Bounce and Rhyme sessions, Teenage Reading Group and Lego Club. There were 37 Adult events held with 645 attendees, and 299 Children’s events with 4,302 attendees last year.
Annual visits last year were at 74,161 and 77,843 items were borrowed. This places Chislehurst as 7th out of the 14 libraries in the Borough in terms of usage. The libraries ranking above Chislehurst are either those with greater resources such as Central, Orpington, Beckenham and West Wickham, or those that have moved to new premises (Biggin Hill and Penge).
Chislehurst Library has been earmarked for several years as one of the well-used library sites that would benefit greatly from a new building. The current building which was built in the 1930’s is quite unsuitable in its present form for delivering a 21st century library service.
The public space is spread over four floors with no provision for those with mobility issues, disabilities or parents and carers with children in buggies to access three of them. Visitors needing step free access can only gain entry from the rear of the building where they need to press a buzzer and wait for someone to open the door for them whilst they brave the elements. There is no lift in the building and two floors of the library and the hall on the first floor are inaccessible for many users. The toilet facilities are poor and not designed for public use. The infrastructure is showing its age and there are problems with water penetration through the flat roof areas etc. The case for redevelopment is clear and a survey conducted by the Chislehurst Society found that 87% of residents surveyed supported redevelopment.
The experience of renewing libraries at Orpington, Biggin Hill and Penge gives confidence to think that a new purpose-built facility in Chislehurst will result in even more people accessing and benefiting from the service.
Penge was the most recent library in the Borough to benefit from a new premises. The first month of opening saw a 33.1% increase in visitors for the same period as the previous year, book issues were 17% higher and new library members joining in the first month increased by 233.3%.
The library site marks the northern gateway to Chislehurst Town Centre and redevelopment also presents regeneration opportunities and activation of this side of the High St. For residents, redevelopment could introduce an additional retail or leisure offering and the increased footfall would be beneficial to Chislehurst’s businesses. Where the priority remains the re-provision of a brand new, accessible and modern library service, in terms of additional uses, the Chislehurst Society’s survey found that 80% of residents preferred retail use (at the time an M&S food store was being proposed).
In 2015 the Council selected a development partner however after several years without being able to conclude an agreement, negotiations were terminated last summer and a decision was made to re-market the property. Last month the Council’s real estate advisors, Cushman & Wakefield began marketing the property with bids due on 20thFebruary. Based on the proposals received it is anticipated that there will be a second round amongst a selected shortlist.
In selecting a development partner many factors will be of importance other than the bid value, these include the use class and benefits to the area, the massing and planning potential, the track record of the developer and their ability to perform, proposals for the temporary library and project timeline.
Once a partner is selected the sale will require approval from Council, this process will be in the public domain. The report will first go to the Recreation, Renewal and Housing Policy Development and Scrutiny Committee followed by final sign off by the Executive. Members of the public are able to attend and make representations. Your three elected Councillors for Chislehurst, Katy Boughey, Kieran Terry and myself are here primarily to represent the interests of Chislehurst, its residents and businesses and we will be fully involved in the entire process to get the best outcome for Chislehurst.
Following the development agreement, the next stage will be for the developer to progress their scheme and prepare their planning application. The application will go through the usual planning process, be subject to the same rules and scrutiny and the developer will be expected to hold public consultations. The site is situated at the north of the Chislehurst Conservation Area and the application will need to be sympathetic to this and be compliant with Bromley’s policy on development in conservation areas (policy 41-43 of the Local Plan).
During development a temporary library will be provided for interim use. The council have stressed that the interim facility must provide for a minimum of half the library’s stock (currently 17,719 items) and must cater for a full programme of activities and events. A provisional site has been identified in the High St car park behind the post office however the developer is at liberty to propose an alternative on the High St, the site must be accessible.
We shall post updates and notifications of council meetings and public events at facebook.com/ChislehurstConservatives and will circulate a newsletter to all Chislehurst residents in Q2.
We are excited by the prospect of providing a new and improved library for Chislehurst and by the opportunities presented for Chislehurst through regeneration of this site. Should you have any further enquiry on this or any other matter we would invite you to contact us using the details below.
Cllr Suraj Sharma, (Vice-Chairman, Renewal, Recreation & Housing)
Cllr Katy Boughey, (Chairman, Plans Sub Committee No.3)
Cllr Kieran Terry, (Vice-Chairman, Environment & Community Services)