The consultation on the future of our library service closed on 30th Sept, a report was produced, dated 30/09/11 barely enough time one would think to collate effectively all the information sent in, particularly as many comments were sent late on Friday the 30th. That report has now been approved by the County Council Cabinet, at the meeting held at Silverstone on 11th October. It makes one suspicious as to the purpose and validity of the consultation when only 1555 people took part ( County Council now say over 1600 took part) and answered loaded questions, then the report is produced in record time to be ratified by the County Council cabinet barely two weeks later. It makes you wonder whether the Council are confident in the results of their document? Further, to find any information about the consultation results you have to go to the Cabinet meeting agenda webpage, it was buried where no one would obviously find it. There is no link from the homepage of the Council website, for example, however you can read them on the SJRA website www.sjra.info . As expected the proposal was “nodded” through far from the majority of the enquiring public, whom found it difficult to get to such a hard to reach location. So much for transparency and democracy! Three members of the public (myself included) did address the Cabinet to object to the documents as did several councillors, although not all councillors were against the proposal.
Whilst, justifying the proposal, Portfolio holder Councillor Heather Smith, in an astonishing outburst, attacked so called “protesters”, whom she accused of intimidating library users outside libraries whilst the consultation was taking place. She accused them of telling people not to volunteer. Another Councillor Mackintosh also blasted legitimate free speech by accusing those who complain and "protest" as responsible for the destruction of the library service! You couldn’t make it up!
In truth, “Campaigners” did not mount demonstrations outside the libraries in Northampton, Kettering and Wellingborough. In fact they held stalls where they asked those passing by and library users to sign petitions in support of public provision of libraries. They also distributed leaflets which highlighted the possible consequences of the Council’s proposals, and, it must be emphasised, have not discouraged people from volunteering. It is quite astounding how the County Councillors can try and turn the blame for this present crisis on to those who are exercising their democratic right to free speech. It only serves to make people think the Council have something to hide as they are being so defensive.
In conclusion, Cllr Smith’s closing remarks to the Cabinet were not reassuring, for she said that there was no guarantee that some libraries will not face closure if the proposals did not fulfil their objectives by June 2013, when the library service strategy will be reviewed. In fact some, including St. James, could close before that if the plan is not on course.
The report is flawed and nothing really has changed since the start of the year, library closures are still on the table, if communities do not donate enough money and time to run their own libraries, and St.James is no exception. The SJRA has complained to the Council leader about the process.
Despite the "good things" contained in the report, they all mean nothing if time and money cannot be donated to local libraries.
Libraries like St. James may pay the ultimate price to save libraries in more affluent areas, as St. James does not have rich benefactors queuing up to pour money in , nor does it have a wealth of people with time on their hands. Also it does not have a Parish Council , which all the affluent areas seem to have! All we are reliant upon is the County Councillors Empowerment funds, which are not guaranteed. The premises that the library is currently housed in are not fit for purpose and severely restrict the potential of the library. It is too small, does not have nowhere near enough chairs and space is very limited to be able to hold events etc. The library friends group (FoSJL) and the SJRA have discussed some plans for the relocation of the library to another more suitable premises. These include the old school buildings and the old Corporation bus company offices on St. James Road. Both have stood empty for many years and would make ideal premises. The possibility of getting some other groups interested to share the buildings, such as arts groups etc is also being looked at too because funding will be a big issue.
The old St. James school site which is the subject of a planning application to demolish it and build houses in its place would make an ideal location for a multi-cultural arts hub which could include a library. The problem is the Borough Council and its conservation section are recommending that the application should be approved, saying that there is no link between the school buildings and the church, therefore the school cannot enjoy “curtilage listing” which means it would not be protected under the Church’s grade 2 status. The case was due to be heard before the planning committee on the 18th but was removed from the agenda to enable the developer more time to stipulate what they will provide to the community under a section 106 agreement. Apparently all that the developer can offer St. James in return for destroying its heritage is some floodlights on the multi-use games area in Victoria Park, which the council will be reluctant to accept as they will be paying the ongoing bills. Useful as they may be they will not be a sustainable or practical amenity that everyone can use in the area. However, a replacement library building would be and this is the sort of thing the developer should be contributing to. We would like to see all of the school buildings retained and converted either into residential properties or if funding could be obtained; an arts centre that would include the library. The developers plans include retaining the front part of the school and using it for community or enterprise use, but they have not stated at anytime how they propose to do this despite suggestions from the SJRA. Any one who cares about our heritage is asked to write to the council and register to speak at the November planning meeting which takes place on the 15th at 6.00pm at the Guildhall. Hopefully we may be able to persuade the committee that local heritage is just as important as the town centre heritage, where all the attention is focussed on. You can also contact us via the details below or from our website to send your messages of support for the retention of the school buldings.
Two disturbing incidents have occurred recently in St. James. The first was when an elderly man was the victim of verbal and racist abuse and assaulted in Victoria Park. The incident two weeks ago left the man shaken and intimidated. The victim, who regularly uses the park and encourages people to clean up after themselves and also picks up rubbish left by people, particularly those who drink alcohol, was going about his normal business walking his dog when two men approached him. The police have been informed and have told us that they are stepping up patrols in the park with a view to making arrests, but not until they have spoken to any individuals and they have had a chance to behave. The SJRA Chair, John Connolly has written to the Police asking for more direct action to protect all park users.
In an incident on Wednesday 12th, an elderley woman had a her bag snatched by a man outside the NatWest bank on the Square. The man, aged around 49 ran off towards Victoria Park. However, a young man named Russell was boarding a bus when he heard the commotion and the woman's plea for help. The young man then gave chase and apprehended the mugger in Victoria Park, over a quarter of a mile away. Other members of the public also assisted and held the man in Althorp Road until the Police arrived. The SJRA wish to place on record our thanks to the people who assisted the woman, who was left shaken by the incident, and apprehended the mugger, particularly the man who held the man until police arrived but most importantly the young man who selfishly gave chase, at risk to himself and tackled the mugger. We think he should have a community award as he is renewed many peoples faith in human kind and particularly young people who are so often misjudged. So, Councillors and police if you are reading come on lets thank these people particularly the young man, who was on his way to a job interview and would not take any reward from the victim.
The SJRA will be asking the police to step up patrols in the area, but potential muggers beware, Jimmy's End is not a place for easy pickings, you may well be challenged!
A new eatery has opened on Weedon Road, Gill’s café is now open for business opposite the Saints ground. Apparently they had premises before at Nettos in Far Cotton but now this has been taken over by ASDA so Gill’s has moved to pastures new and we are pleased to have them. The premises they have moved into is the old “Rice’s Wine shop next door to the Rainbow chippy. Why not pop along and see for yourself?
True to his word, Cllr Patel has successfully lobbied the county council in to spending some money on the worn out roads of St. James. The SJRA has long been asking for maintenance to be carried out. Recently Spencer Bridge Road was partly “patched” and resurfaced, now sections of St. James Road and Weedon Road are having resurfacing work done. The “lake” outside the Saints ground should be a thing of the past now that the road surface has been redone and the drain has been unblocked as will be the Abbots way “lake” at its junction with Weedon Road. The SJRA has complained to the council several times about this and even claimed the drains had been unblocked when they clearly had not! The other great lake in the area, apart from Sixfields, is the one on Tyne road outside Wickes. This has also been reported and now hopefully will be “drained” soon. At a recent inspection with the County Council representatives, their contractors and the councillor, the SJRA secretary pointed out the condition of this road and was assured action will be taken to rectify the problem.
On the inspection it was also confirmed that Peverel’s Way would be being patched and repaired on (today) Monday 31st, so avoid this street whilst work is carried out. Abbots Way will have to wait a while longer as £11000 needs to be found to completely resurface it. Thanks to Cllr Patel for pushing these repairs.
Cllr wire has also been busy in the area making representations on behalf of residents and dealing with individual cases. Several issues in Melbourne, Abbey and Devonshire House flats are currently being dealt with including parking issues and nuisance tenants. The councillor is also looking into the issue of derelict council garage in the area.