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Friern Barnet Library will not be sold but council deal is 'not perfect', say occupiers
Friern Barnet Library will remain as a community-run asset after Barnet Council agreed not to sell the popular building.
The authority has granted a short-term licence to nine members of the Friern Barnet Community Library Group (FBCLG) while the two parties thrash out the final details of a two-year lease.
The announcement represents a u-turn from the council, which previously said it would not allow a community library in the building after it was shut down in April last year.
Squatters have occupied the Friern Barnet Road premises since September and helped community groups re-open their own library in the building with more than 8,000 donated books.
The occupiers helped the library supporters put pressure on the council to negotiate, and yesterday the squatters agreed to step aside and allow the FBCLG to take the reins.
Local Rabbi Jeffrey Newman led a ceremonial handing over of the keys in front of dozens of supporters and national press at the library yesterday.
He said the event was about “taking the library back from the clutches of the authority that looked to sell it.”
Despite celebrating a “victory” over the council plans to sell the building, Maureen Ivens, co-ordinator of the Save Friern Barnet Library campaign group, admitted the agreement was not perfect.
She said: “It is a pragmatic solution that we will happily accept as there is no alternative. But we believe libraries should be publicly run, with qualified librarians and assistants.
“This is not a perfect solution but the council has budged and this is what was on offer.”
Squatting activist and library campaign leader Pete Phoenix also admitted the deal was one the occupiers had little choice but to accept.
He said: “They basically told us, this is the deal, take it or we’ll evict you next Wednesday. It is not a total victory but the library has been saved.”
Barnet Council claims it reversed its decision thanks to savings made under its controversial One Barnet outsourcing programme.
Council leader Richard Cornelius said the authority would provide a grant to help with the start up of the community library once the lease has been agreed.
He said: “I've met with the trustees of the community library who are a very committed group of local residents and I'm looking forward to seeing the new community facility up and running.”