Lambeth Council has outraged residents by granting planning permission for a gym to be built in the basement of Herne Hill’s Carnegie Library.
The permission, which was granted on February 7, means that several adjustments will be made to the Grade 2 listed building, including a £600,000 part excavation of the basement.
Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), Lambeth’s leisure providers, will be running the gym. It is set to open at the end of 2017.
However, as part of the decision, a specific use condition was imposed on the ground floor of the building, meaning that it can’t be used for anything apart from a library and community facility.
“The idea of installing a gym is mad,” said Friends of Carnegie Library Chair, Jeff Doom. “People won’t use a gym. We’ve done survey after survey. There’s plenty around already – there’s Brockwell Park Lido and Camberwell. It’s just a mystery to most people why they’ve decided to do this.”
“What if the gym fails and interventions have been made in a listed building that nobody’s going to want anymore? It’ll be difficult to reverse the changes,” he said.
Lambeth Council has pointed to the fact that at a time of severe financial pressure, they need to find a way to run the building sustainably.
They plan to turn the lease of the building over to a community group, via an Asset Transfer, who will manage and run it.
Carnegie Library Association – comprised of Friends of Carnegie Library and eight other community groups which meet at the library – are one of two groups which have submitted a business plan to Lambeth.
Library campaigners have also voiced concerns that the Carnegie Library will no longer hold the appeal of a community hub once refurbished. They also fear that the Neighbourhood Library will offer drastically-reduced services.
Lambeth point out that the ground floor as library and community space now has greater protections than ever before.
Cllr Jack Hopkins, Lambeth Cabinet Member for Business, Culture & Regeneration, said: “A condition of the planning permission granted on Tuesday actually gave the library more protection than it has ever had, specifically classifying the ground floor as library and community space.
“The refurbished building will provide not only a library service, but a wider range of community services as well as a gym in the basement”
“By working with partners in this way we can keep a library in the area in the face of deep budget cuts, while at the same time increasing the variety of services offered in the building.”
A spokesperson for GLL said: “We are pleased that planning permission has been granted for a gym within the basement at Carnegie Library. This will help secure its future and ensure that both library facilities and community space are retained within the building.”