Since the proposed relocation of Wokingham Library, probably the major public community facility in the town, is posited on an improved service for residents, is it not vital to consult local people to discover their views on the proposal, a measure that could be achieved by for example amending the Recommendation to read: 1) that a public consultation be held about the proposal to relocate Wokingham Library to a new building on the Carnival Phase II site: 2) that any proposal to relocate the Library be then submitted to the Executive by the Executive Member for Resident Services, with a summary of the responses to the consultation, together with a full impact assessment and detailed business case?
Firstly, I would like to preface this answer by saying that I would not support this proposal if I did not think it provided a real opportunity to further enhance our library offer and I hope that by the end of the process that we are going to go through, that residents will be as excited as I am about the opportunities that the relocation could provide.
The Council conducted its extensive consultation in 2016 about the proposed Library Offer for the Borough; I have got a copy of it here if you would like to see it, including the guiding principles of the service and the way it would be delivered. These views were the cornerstone of the new Library Offer that was adopted by the Council in 2016.
The proposed relocation of Wokingham Library to the Carnival Phase 2 site will not result in a reduction of service or fundamental change to the core services that are available to residents. From the consultation held last year, it was clear that residents wanted the library to retain books as a primary stock type, to offer facilities that support learning and achievement, and to continue to meet residents’ expectations for utilising and embracing new technology.
The consultation also showed that there was overwhelming support for our libraries to be able to adapt to the changing needs of our residents and to offer access to other Council services and to broaden the range of activities and events that people can enjoy. Furthermore, there was strong support for collocating library services alongside other services, including sports facilities.
Over a thousand people responded to the consultation on the library offer and only 25% of them did not agree with colocation. Our residents have already provided the Council with a strong statement about their preferences and aspirations. The proposed new site for Wokingham Library will offer more usable space and greater flexibility being located on one floor, which means you only have one entrance and you have vastly improved parking facilities, being adjacent to a destination leisure facility. We think that will also attract people of all ages. Being able to offer all of these improvements on a site that is less than 300m away and clearly visible from the entrance of the current library is an extremely positive opportunity for the Council.
However, we still want to hear people’s views as the proposals take shape. The actual library itself will not start build until 2021, so there is plenty of opportunity for people to give us their views now and through the period up to 2021. I would be really, really interested to hear particularly what the users of the library think about this, also particularly about what residents of Wokingham think. Hopefully we will be able to start communicating through the process following the agreement of this in principle to actually help explain to people what facilities will be there and the what the benefits are, and also listen to their feedback as to what they would like.
Might I confess to some confusion as to whether that is consultation or just telling people what you are proposing to do? You say you hope everyone will be enthusiastic about it, well why do you not ask them and find out before you start rather than at the end of it?
The reason we are going for consultation now is because it is required as part of the planning process. That does not mean that we actually have to do the change, so what we are doing is putting the approval in principle to make the change in now as part of the kick off of the planning process which is part of the consolidation work around Wokingham town centre.
However, I am very interested to hear what people think. We will be actually asking. It is not a formal consultation because a formal consultation is not required if the services are actually being improved rather than reduced, but nevertheless to all intents and purposes it will be a consultation to listen to what people want and to try change the plans according to what people think.
Councillor Baker added that he as Leader would not add support to any proposal that reduced the quality of the current library services.