Muswell Hill Library Submission

In 2016 Muswell Hill Library was threatened with closure by Haringey Council. This is the Hornsey Historical Society objection to the closure submitted as part of the official public consultation. It was by written by  HHS Conservation Officer, David Frith.

Submission

The Muswell Hill Library is a splendid building erected in 1931. It is statutorily listed Grade II as a building of architectural or historic interest.

It is well designed for its purpose in that it has spacious well-lit interior spaces that inculcate a feeling that is appropriate to a library. Its situation in relation to the Muswell Hill shopping centre could not be better in that it is easily approached from the shops without crossing a number of roads. It is also a building which is dearly loved by the residents of the area and, in spite of its drawbacks; it has been used by generations of children without serious problems.

The front part of the land on which the library is situated was sold to the Hornsey UD in 1898 by J Edmondson, the developer of much of the Broadway and Queen’s Avenue. This part of the site was originally used as a fire station. The remainder of the site was bought by the Hornsey Borough Council in1930.

In answer to Question No. 29 in the FAQ document the Council states: “The building has a covenant to be used (as) a library or other public non-trading purpose. We have been advised that the covenant applies to the council and not the land, and thus is enforceable against the council not the successors in title. As such, the covenant does not prohibit the sale of the building and its future development.” This covenant applies to only part of the site and relates to the land acquired from United Dairies in 1930. The covenant states: “The Purchasers hereby covenant with the Vendors that the property hereby conveyed shall not nor shall any part thereof at any time hereafter be used for any purpose other than that of a Branch Public Library or other public non-trading purpose.” The significance of the covenant and the Council’s interpretation of its implications are not matters we wish to comment on.

The existing building does have two important drawbacks: the lack of complete disabled access and the inadequate toilet facilities. The Council’s consultation documents detail a number of alternatives for ameliorating these problems. Of the proposals to improve the existing building the costs appear to be excessive and inflated by unexplained contingency items. One proposal that is not fully explored in the documents is a very small extension on the vacant land at the rear. The objection to access from the mews side is that the footpath adjacent to the library is of inadequate width. This could be overcome by widening the footpath on the library side and reducing the width on the other side. The restriction on the width of the footpath would also affect the development of the vacant site for residential or other purposes requiring public access.

The Council’s conclusion is that the costs would not be justified and that the best alternative would be to replace the library in part of the ground floor of the new building that is now being built on the site of the old Green Man PH. The availability of this space arises because the proposals for the Green Man site as originally approved included a three storey space for a school for Cerebral Palsy sufferers. In the light of this need the Council approved a volume of building on this site which would probably not normally have been countenanced. The school has now found alternative accommodation and the space above ground floor level previously designed for the school is now subject to an application to build further flats. The Council appears already to have a lease on this part of the new building apparently in exchange for the Greenfields School in Coppetts Road after it was decided that the floors for the school were no longer required for their original social purpose.

Without seeing the details of the new building it is difficult to compare the accommodation with the existing. It is stated that the new space will be 25% larger than the existing. The character of the new accommodation cannot be judged but it is unlikely that the new floor space in a commercial building will have the spatial and lighting characteristics of the existing building. Also the site is less accessible for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic than the existing library.

In any event it is stated that the Council could not contemplate spending capital sums on improving the existing building so the alternative schemes for the existing building are irrelevant. The Council states that the only choices are to retain the existing building in its present form or to move the library to the Green Man site. In our view the preferred option is to retain the existing building in its present form. It should be remembered that the building is listed Grade II as a building of architectural or historic Interest. The presumption therefore is that, if possible, the building should be retained. As a building of architectural quality it is worthy of preservation as a whole not simply as a meaningless shell to enclose a building used for a purpose entirely different from that for which the elevations were designed. Buildings are not listed solely for their external appearance and in this case the quality of the interior, with its mural, is as important as the exterior. Let us retain the existing building and hope that in future years it will eventually be possible by a modest expenditure to provide the facilities which are at present lacking.