Campaigners brand Lichfield Library debate a “travesty of democracy”

Campaigners say a debate over the future of Lichfield Library was a “travesty of democracy”.

The Friary building which currently houses Lichfield Library. Pic: Elliott Brown

The Friary building which currently houses Lichfield Library. Pic: Elliott Brown

A meeting of Staffordshire County Council heard criticism from campaigners over proposals to switch the facility to St Mary’s in the Market Square, with the current home at The Friary redeveloped as residential accomodation.

A petition of more than 5,500 names calling for a public consultation over the plan forced the fresh debate.

Lichfield and Burntwood Green Party members Adam Elsdon and Simon Partridge handing in the Save Lichfield Library petition at the County Buildings in Stafford

Lichfield and Burntwood Green Party members Adam Elsdon and Simon Partridge handing in the Save Lichfield Library petition at the County Buildings in Stafford

But a spokesperson for the Lichfield and Burntwood branch of the Green Party, which organised the petition, accused the controlling Conservative group at the council of ignoring the strength of public feeling: “We are disgusted that Staffordshire County Council has chosen to totally disregard the wishes of over 5,500 of its residents and press ahead with its plans for Lichfield Library without any public consultation.

“We are even more dismayed that the public debate our petition was due turned out to be such a travesty of democracy.

“Rather than a balanced, rational debate on our call for a public consultation we instead witnessed an orchestrated series of attacks by senior Conservative councillors on petition organiser Robert Pass and his fellow campaigners. These attacks, at times shockingly vitriolic, were interspersed with statements from other Conservative councillors extolling the virtues of the council’s proposed plans for the library.

“Two separate interjections from councillors calling for the debate to stick to the matter of the petition text were completely ignored by the chairman.”

Staffordshire County Council says its plans will safeguard the future of two landmark buildings and ensure the future of library provision in the area.

But campaigners have hit back at claims the Save Lichfield Library protests did not paint the full picture.

“The campaign and the Lichfield and Burntwood Green Party were repeatedly accused of misleading everyone who had signed the petition. Councillor Ian Parry accused us of ‘cynical manipulation’ and Councillor Terry Finn even claimed to have overheard one campaigner telling members of the public that the Friary would be demolished. We utterly refute all such accusations.

“We have always been completely open about the nature and substance of our campaign. The text of our petition made our position crystal clear and we always took great pains to ensure that everyone we spoke to understood what they were putting their name to. We don’t believe we misled anyone and feel sure that all those who signed the petition will resent councillors like Ian Parry and Alan White implying that they didn’t understand what they were signing.

“Ahead of the debate, what we heard time and again from Lichfield residents was that they thought their councillors never listened to them. Sadly, what we saw last Thursday made it very clear indeed to us that the majority of them are interested in hearing nobody’s voices but their own.”

Cllr Ben Adams

Cllr Ben Adams

But Cllr Ben Adams, the Staffordshire County Council cabinet member who led the debate, rejected the criticism – and said members of the public could make up their own mind about the way the campaign opposing the plans had been handled.

“A recording of the debate is available online and people will be able to see for themselves that senior members from both parties expressed concern about the way the petition was conducted,” he said.

“The merits of the proposed move from the Friary to St Mary’s was given a thorough airing and the question of consultation was also addressed and it was agreed that the petition be received, alongside other information and be included in the papers upon which a final decision will be based.”

A recording of the debate can be viewed online starting at 2hrs 4mins.

Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

12 Comments

  1. Scribbler

    24th May, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    That’s a prime example of the reality of modern politics, whether it is at local or national level.

  2. Interesting

    24th May, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    I signed the petition and I don’t feel misled.

    Terry has got a great hearing aid, turn it up high. He can direct it at a distant conversation and not pick up any background noise at all. Hear all that is said and be there the exact instant that a lie is being told.

    Actually, does that sound believable?

  3. Localman

    24th May, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Actually my 90yr old mother signed because the petition said “save Lichfield library”. She uses the library a lot and was afraid it would close. When I told her the proposal was to move it to st Mary’s she said, “oh that will be better for me. I shan’t have to cross that busy road.”

  4. Mat

    24th May, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    Localman- a fair enough comment and no doubt others feel the same. The fact remains though that we made it clear what the petition was for, by sharing the script with all who wanted to sign. I find it quite amazing that the local Tory Gang are now calling fowl about being mislead. Haven’t they read the script – that’s their job. As there were only 4 of us petitioning I invite Terry Finn to point out which of us said the Friary was to be demolished.

  5. Thornton

    25th May, 2016 at 7:54 am

    ‘The local Tory gang’? You’re living in a Conservative stronghold my friend. Maybe your petition would have gained a better result if you explained that to ‘save Lichfield library’ the building needs investment from the private sector.

  6. AgitatorofPeople

    25th May, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Has Staffordshire County Council, Lichfield District Council, The Guild of St Mary’s, the county council’s all-party Prosperous Staffordshire scrutiny committee and the City Centre Development Partnership “Publicly” laid out the plans that involve selling a public owned Grade 2 listed building, then spend £Millions to refit a church owned Grade 2 listed building?
    No they have not, Ian Parry the SCC leader tells us that we were misled into signing a petition with reference to the “Covenant” it took a Freedom Of Information request to prise the information out of the council that they changed it at a cost of £15,000 25 years ago!!
    Due to the sums of money involved, the key historic buildings involved and the public interest in this matter, it is appalling that there is no transparency from the council or the key partnerships, why is that? why do the citizens of this county have to resort to trying to prise information out of them?
    I would say and many more have, that the Council and this partnership have something to hide and are not prepared to disclose what is really going on.

  7. AgitatorofPeople

    25th May, 2016 at 9:33 am

    And while I am on the soapbox!, in the Council Meeting they kept referring to Samuel Johnsons birthplace and how having the Library at St Marys would be a more fitting place to have a library.
    Samuel Johnson used to visit a good friend “Mrs Cobb” along with her niece at the Friarys Bishop Lodgings , the fireplace that is now in the library was moved in 1920 when the school was built, Samuel Johnson would have sat next to that very same fireplace, the Friary holds significant links to Johnson.
    Samuel Johnson died in 1784, in contrast the latest incarnation of St Marys Church (there have been a few) which was totally demolished and re-built in 1870, 86 years after he died, was a building he had never seen.
    Politicians who do not know about Lichfield or its history, misusing historical figures to justify selling off our important historical cultural assets, and once again I stress, with no public transparency, is tantamount to theft of our public assets.

  8. Ron

    25th May, 2016 at 9:54 am

    I ask myself, if my elected councillor has a different opinion to mine is that ok? Of course it is, but he won’t get my vote next time. He didn’t last time but it makes no difference. No wonder we are becoming publically apathetic when those who are elected to represent us appear to do nothing of the sort. But on the other hand, perhaps they represent the majority i.e. those that elected them. So it would help greatly if they at least acknowledged that there was some dissent but on balance and for whatever reasons, they decided to go against this feeling. Else we will never know whether they are Conservative, or Selfservative.

  9. Thornton

    25th May, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Firstly, no one had to ‘prise’ information out of anybody. All you had to do was ask for it.

    May i ask what the ‘save lichfield library’ campaigners would do to secure the future if the old Friary school if the library was to remain there?

  10. Mat

    25th May, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Thornton- yes you may. Firstly get the finances in order and stop treating this like an issue which sprang out of nowhere. My grandmother was one for proverbs – one was, “a stitch in time saves nine.” The aledged £1,400,000 repairs didn’t just happen. They must have accrued over many years. So, firstly spend our money wisely. Don’t lay down cobbles in a market square that last 5 minutes and then need relaying, open the library up as a community hub where events and conferences can be held, raise our local taxes for those in full time employment, charge cars to park in the centre of town and allow buses to drop in the market square, invest in the building by getting a community fund going ( sponsor a brick), hold coffee mornings, search for patrons and rename Lichfield, Ronaldoville or Rooney Towers- but give us a say, don’t just take our heritage and sell it to the highest bidder who can then change the locks and tell us to sling our hooks!

  11. Ron

    26th May, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    I wish Susan Woodward was my Councillor. Just listened to her debate on the webcast and it was a very sensible argument, unlike some of the others I have to say. She has grasped the issue (at least my issue) fully. It was never about the Library (for me) it was always about the building – as she points out. Well worth a listen

  12. SJ

    27th May, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    It’s pretty pointless debating with this not so local council on local issues ,one thing we have learned is they are not to be trusted to maintain the historical buildings of this city rather just sell them off for a tidy profit of which I have no doubt won’t be used tithe advantage of the city or its people ,the view from the Cathederal is now spoiled by one of the worst architectural monstrosities I’ve seen to date ,who takes leve of there senses and allows this ,the old post office used to bet here used as an arts centre by the young people of Lichfield for years knocked down due to sliding sand all I can hope is that glass monstrosity slides off in to Minster pool ,is there no part of this city’s historical heritage councilors won’t deface ,it’s time to make them as redundant as they claim the library to be and for many of us that time can’t come quick enough

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