The rationale behind closing Friern Barnet Library is that it will be replaced, along with North Finchley Library, with a new Landmark Library at the Artsdepot. This week I saw a copy of the feasibility study prepared by Capita Symonds (yes the company bidding for the two One Barnet Contracts) and dated 3 July 2012 which shows the various options for relocating a library in the Artsdepot.
The study, disclosed under an FOI request, runs to 123 pages and considers 19 options and sub options. These options range in size from a very small 505 sqm (which is discounted as being too small) through to the largest option at 1,005sqm. To set this in context, the floor space of the Chipping Barnet Library is 1,650 sqm, more than three times the size of the smallest option and 50% bigger than the largest option. That tells us that any landmark library at the Artsdepot will be modestly proportioned.
The feasibility study identifies that the minimum space requirement is 750sqm and that the ideal is 1,000sqm. There are numerous visuals which give a feel of how the Artsdepot might look with the new library added.
However, it is when the study considers the costs that things start to go horribly wrong. The cheapest option is £1.2 million for the 505sqm space, one that has already been ruled out for being too small. The most expensive option comes in at £5.4 million for a 960 sqm space, very close to the "ideal" size requirement, although still 690 sqm smaller than Chipping Barnet Library. These are simply the capital costs and take no consideration of rental cost. The current temporary library is costing £34,000 and takes up a space of 94sqm. the ideal sized option would be ten times that at roughly £350,000 per annum in rent.
So there you have it. Close the Friern Barnet library that has minimal running costs (before library staff are considered) and has a capital value of £400,000 and replace it with a library costing £5.4 million and £350,000 in rental. I know you have to take into consideration the value and savings at North Finchley Library but they are never going to come close to making up for the additional costs of the new Landmark Library.
Sadly the obvious conclusion is that the Landmark Library will simply not get built.
Now anyone with half an ounce of common sense could have seen this coming a mile off. Leaving this feasibility study until after the Friern Barnet library was closed seems to me like a cynical ploy to remove library capacity Was there ever any real intention to build a new library or was this the anticipated outcome all along. Perhaps it is also a reflection of the culture of the flawed One Barnet programme, take something which is meeting a need and ticking over cost effectively and replace it with something new and shiny and, oh dear, a lot more expensive. I don't know how much this feasibility study cost (yet) but it will not have come cheap. Barnet please stop wasting our money and just focus on delivering services that the residents want. Give up on this stupid idea of selling the Friern Barnet Library now and give it back to the community.