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Occupying librarians lose court case but win right to protest

Barnet county court recognised their right to protest and the occupiers have been given a six-week stay of execution before they will be moved on

20 December 2012

A team of local residents and occupying ‘caretakers’, providing library services to the local community, has been told they will be evicted from the library, in Barnet, which they have occupied since September.

However, Barnet county court recognised their right to protest and the occupiers have been given a six-week stay of execution before they will be moved on.

The occupiers entered the Friern Barnet library building at the beginning of September this year following the closure of the library by Barnet Council in April 2012.

The group of local residents and Occupy activists have ensured that it continues to serve the community, which in turn has shown its support by donating over 8000 books, as well as providing volunteers and continuing to use the library, which has once again become a thriving centre for the Friern Barnet Community.

A series of meetings took place between the occupiers of the library, local residents and officers from the council and a number of options were discussed including a part council funded and/or volunteer supported library options, or possible purchase of the building.

Campaigners have questioned why a community should have to purchase what is essentially its own building back from the council which is supposed to safeguard what is the last public space in Friern Barnet area. Also with a ‘Landmark’ Arts Depot Library (a central part of the Council’s Library Plan) now cancelled, with cost savings estimated at £6 million, campaigners feel the council should have the funds to save this library the annual running costs of which are £100,000.

However, despite these numerous and positive discussions with the Council, the group were served with notice of possession proceedings by the Council.

Ugo Hayter, a member of the Leigh Day Human Rights team who are representing the group said: "This is a significant case. It is of great importance that the Judge recognised that the community library campaigners' right to protest was protected. An appeal to the Court of Appeal is currently being considered."

“However, the Council, in taking possession of the library, would deprive the residents of Friern Barnet of a valued community library service, in circumstances where plans for replacement library services have been abandoned. Under the Localism Act the Council is currently under a statutory duty to impose an 18-month moratorium on any sale of the property to provide the community with the opportunity to prepare a bid to purchase the property, therefore the building will simply be boarded up and left to lie empty for at least 18 months.

“The library was recently added to the Council’s Schedule of Buildings of Local Architectural or Historic Interest earlier this month. The thought of it being sold off will come as a source of great concern for Barnet residents. This building was purpose built as a Library and is the centre of the Friern Barnet Community.”

Peter Phoenix from the Group said: “This is a victory for the library campaigners, the judge has recognised the right to protest in buildings closed down due to local authority cuts."



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