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Squatters to reopen Friern Barnet Library this weekend
Friern Barnet Library will be reopened to the public this weekend by a group of activists looking to reclaim the building for the community.
Squatters gained access to the Friern Barnet Road building in the early hours of Wednesday and began demanding it be reopened as a public library.
The group this afternoon announced it would be holding workshops and a small library at the venue between 11am and 3pm on Saturday.
Barnet Council has come under fire over its handling of the situation after its deputy chief executive and a senior libraries officer entered into negotiations with the group on Wednesday.
Julie Taylor and a high-level council officer went to meet the four men, before offering them a chance to set up a library in the refurbished Friary House, in Friary Park.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the authority is paying more than £600-a-day for security staff from its contractor Blue 9 to monitor the building round the clock.
The council also told the Times Series it was spending £120-a-month to keep the gas and electricity running.
The council’s co-operative stance has been criticised by organisations and individuals, including the Save Friern Barnet Library (SFBL) campaign group.
Chairman Maureen Ivens today denied the SFBL group had any involvement in the break-in breaking into the building, something the group claimed earlier this week.
In a statement issued on the group’s behalf, she said: “This, surely, is the most absurd action by the council in the saga of the closure of Friern Barnet Library. Rather than simply re-open our desperately needed library they are willing to collude in a civil offence – all, surely, to save face.
“It is a slap in the face to the community to keep it shut, and now – with its occupation by the squatters – it is more urgent than ever to do something to ensure its preservation for the good of the community.”
Under squatting laws, it could take the council up to a month to remove the activists as their occupation is classified as a civil offence.
One of the squatters, who gave his name as Pete Phoenix, told the Times Series the group was working on a rotation basis of dozens of people who would be opening the library for up to three days a week.
The 41-year-old admitted that he was amazed at the level of engagement shown by Barnet Council
He said: “They have been extraordinarily co-operative. I have been doing this for 20 years and never known a council to do this before. It is usually a nightmare to speak to them and you have to battle a ton of red tape but this has been fine.”
The group were even more surprised to find keys to the building in the back of one of the doors.
Mr Phoenix added: “If you’re lucky you sometimes find some keys but to find all of them in the back of the door is pretty lucky.”
Fiona Brickwood has been in talks with the council for a year over plans to open up a youth skills training centre in the former library.
She said: “There are some peculiar things going on here. If someone has just broken into your building, which is a criminal offence, you don’t just walk them down to another one and offer that one instead.
“They’ve not established a negotiating position. They’ve left some of the squatters in the library and shown the others around Friary House. What was to stop them squatting that one as well? It’s complete madness.
“These are two very senior council officers and their actions and judgement need to be called into question. They need to explain what they were doing.
“It makes you wonder if something is going on. I asked Richard Cornelius for any repair documents they have for this building but he’s sent me nothing.
“The squatters have been a bit vague about how they got in but they’ve said they got in through and open window. I don’t know how they did that as all of the windows are locked. They said they found the key in the back of the door and that the heating was on full blast, which seems unbelievable.”