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Town Hall leader speaks out on Bancroft’ deal

PUBLISHED: 23:35 07 July 2008 | UPDATED: 13:25 05 October 2010

THE new council leader at Tower Hamlets in East London, Lutfur Rahman, has made his first public statement on the proposed sale of Bancroft history library to Queen Mary College. In a statement to the East London Advertiser, which is campaigning to block the £1.2m sale, he gave a strong hint the deal would go through when it reaches his cabinet for a decision on July 30

Ted Jeory

THE new council leader at Tower Hamlets in East London, Lutfur Rahman, has made his first public statement on the proposed sale of Bancroft history library to Queen Mary College.

In a statement to the East London Advertiser, which is campaigning to block the £1.2m sale, he gave a strong hint the deal would go through when it reaches his cabinet for a decision on July 30.

He pledged to make the archives more "available" for the current generation of East Enders.

Town Hall culture chiefs have proposed offloading the Victorian Mile End Vestry Hall to Queen Mary College next door at a knock-down price.

The sweetener for the deal is attracting the prestigious Wiener Library, whose Holocaust archives need to move from their West End home by the end of the year.

Campaigners would welcome the Wiener to the East End, but not at the expense of the Bancroft.

Other buildings that could house the collection include the former Poplar Board of Works in Poplar High Street.

Protesters are also furious that the East End's archives and history library would be broken up, even if temporarily.

But Cllr Rahman insists he is a fan of the borough's heritage.

"Our history helps define who we are," he said.

"So the council I lead will not just preserve the East End's fantastic heritage, it will actively celebrate it too.

"That means making it available and accessible to this generation of East Enders as well as expert researchers, so we can all learn from it.

"I also want to see our historic buildings restored to the way they looked in their heyday.

"If the council cannot afford to do that itself, we will of course consider carefully requests from trusted local organisations like Queen Mary, University of London, to take a lease on them and carry out those repairs.

"That is especially the case when the proposal involves bringing the Wiener Library, one of the world's leading archives on the Holocaust, to the historic heartland of Britain's Jewish community.

"That would not just be tokenistic symbolism, it would be a positive practical step towards helping create better understanding between our diverse communities."

He added: "That said, there are many other factors to consider before we reach a decision.

"Most important is that we find a long-term solution that keeps the archive together and increases public access to our history library.

"So we will be looking closely at the detail of this proposal and all other options over the next few weeks."

In a further statement, Tower Hamlets council said: "We've got a fascinating past and our heritage archive is overflowing with a wonderful variety of information which we're 100 per cent committed to safeguarding for future generations.

"Due to the wealth of books, pamphlets, maps, photographs and illustrations that have been collected and donated over the years, our environmentally controlled storage space has reached capacity with no potential to expand."

If the Wiener Library moves in, East Enders would have "even more referencing resources at their finger tips," the council statement continues.

"This has provided us with a fantastic opportunity to not only improve the service, but it would also restore Bancroft Library to its former glory.

"It would mean that the archive will be preserved in a state-of-the-art storage space while the history library would be opened up to a wider audience benefiting from the international reputation of the Museum in Docklands and improved disabled access.

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