Threats to close Bethnal Green and Cubitt Town public libraries as council faces Covid crisis

Once-thriving Idea stores in the East End before Covid... now facing £1.6m budget axe. Picture: LBTH

Once-thriving Idea stores in the East End before Covid... now facing £1.6m budget axe. Picture: LBTH - Credit: LBTH

A people’s survey has been started over the threat of public libraries closing and cutting opening times at Tower Hamlets Ideas Stores which are faced with a quarter of their budgets being axed.

Under threat... Bethnal Green public library facing budget cuts. Picture: Google

Under threat... Bethnal Green public library facing budget cuts. Picture: Google - Credit: Google

It follows months of speculation about closures in the face of £30 million cuts to public spending caused by the Covid crisis and the government tightening local authority purse strings.

Savings have to be made in the next three-year rollover council budget on top of £200m already axed since 2010 because of austerity.

Savings include shrinking the £4.4m annual purse that is bookmarked for library services, town hall sources admit. That could mean £1.6m wiped from the libraries budget.

The two most at risk are the smaller branch libraries at Bethnal Green and at Cubitt Town on the Isle of Dogs.

Bethnal Green library in listed building set in picturesque surroundings of Bethnal Green Gardens. Picture: Google

Bethnal Green library in listed building set in picturesque surroundings of Bethnal Green Gardens. Picture: Google - Credit: LBTH


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But also facing uncertainty is Shadwell’s larger Watney Market Idea Store community hub in the Commercial Road.

The other four Idea stores at Whitechapel Road, Roman Road in Bow, Chrisp Street in Poplar and Canary Wharf could face reduced hours and even fewer days when they’re open.

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The council denied reports of any plans to close the centres when contacted by the East London Advertiser last month. But things are not getting better.

“We are having to make savings to balance our budget to protect essential services,” mayor John Biggs said in a statement to the paper this week.

Under threat... Cubitt Town library on the Isle of Dogs facing budget cuts. Picture: Google

Under threat... Cubitt Town library on the Isle of Dogs facing budget cuts. Picture: Google - Credit: Google

“The options under consultation would build on the changing ways residents are using Idea Stores and libraries by offering a flexible service to meet the needs of changing communities.”

The consultation sets out options such as “reducing opening hours and days and possible closure of the least used facilities”—that means Bethnal Green and Cubitt Town.

New online facilities mean £600,000 savings can be made without hitting services, it is pointed out.

A further £1m needs to be found, however, so town hall bosses are putting the options to the public in a two-month consultation till the end of January.

The options also include a five-year plan to improve four Idea Stores in Chrisp Street, Roman Road, Whitechapel and a new site in the Isle of Dogs to replace Canary Wharf.

But no mention of the Watney Market Idea Store—currently being used as a government Covid walk-in test centre.

The online survey runs until January 29. Alternatively, sessions for those without internet access can be booked at Bow, Poplar or Whitechapel Idea stores. There is also help with filling in the online survey by calling 020-7364 0237.

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