Barnet Council has invited a third party to take over Friern Barnet Library, ending any chance of direct negotiations with the current occupiers.

The local authority announced this afternoon it will hand a licence to CommUNITY Barnet, a charity supporting voluntary organisations in the borough, which will run the building in the interim.

The charity will take charge of the library until February and has been asked to co-ordinate community groups looking to take over the building in the long term.

The council will begin accepting community bids for the building in February and it hopes interested groups can come together and enter one unified application through the licence holders.  

Libraries portfolio holder Councillor Robert Rams told the Times Series that it would be up to CommUNITY Barnet whether or not it chose to hold discussions with the library’s current occupiers.

Friern Barnet Library was shut down in April as a cost-cutting measure by the local authority, which is ultimately looking to sell the property.

Squatters gained access to the empty building in September and have since helped a number of community groups set up their own library with a stock of more than 8,000 donated books.

Barnet Council won a possession order to evict the squatters in December but agreed to delay until the end of January while it held talks with the occupiers over giving them a licence to continue running the library.

Today’s announcement means no direct talks will be held and Cllr Rams said it would be up to CommUNITY Barnet to discuss the continuation of the library with appropriate community groups.

He said: “The squatters will have to leave so we can take control of the building and have it to offer to community groups during the official bidding process.

“The squatters have made it very clear who they are and we will go ahead with the eviction at the end of January if they don’t leave themselves.

“We have put in place a clear mechanism with which the council can work with the community – it is a great opportunity.”

The news will come as a blow to members of the Friern Barnet Community Library who last week put forward five representatives to begin negotiations with the council.

The group had requested a meeting with Cllr Rams and council leader Richard Cornelius on Friday January 11 but told the Times Series this morning they had received no reply to repeated email requests.