The proper answer to recent claims of asset stripping is show me the teapot.
Asset stripping is a less serious charge than social cleansing I suppose and for that at least I am grateful. But it’s irritating nonetheless that yet again an ugly charge has been levelled against the Council that has no basis in reality whatsoever.
Call me old-fashioned but I think serious claims ought to be backed up by serious evidence. Cleverer men than I have made the same point, and far more elegantly. Carl Sagan said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Christopher Hitchens offered us Hitchen’s Razor: what is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. But my personal favourite is Russell’s teapot. Bertrand Russell pointed out that it is really up to the person who says there is a celestial teapot orbiting the Sun to prove it, not for me to disprove it.
Now I know these big-brained chaps were making a larger point, but their logic is just as sound on the somewhat smaller stage of Kensington and Chelsea. If you are going to protest outside North Kensington Library saying that the Council is “closing the library”; that it is leasing the building to its friends “on the cheap” and “asset stripping the community of all its public spaces” then there ought to be some sort of evidential test to pass before your claims are taken seriously. Let’s apply that test now, taking the largest claim first.
The Council is stripping North Kensington of its assets: the Council has recently built a state-of-the-art leisure centre and a brand-new academy. It has re-built Middle Row Primary School (now Ark Brunel Primary Academy); it intends to re-build Barlby Primary School, to build a brand-new school for children for special needs nearby and to add hundreds of new homes in North Kensington. And, oh yes, the Council has also painstakingly assembled the case for a station on the Elizabeth line at Kensal Portobello. I could go on, but I won’t because the point is made: claims of asset stripping are the purest junk.
The Council is closing North Kensington Library: er no, it isn’t. It is actually building a fine new library not 50 yards from the old one that, in library terms, will in every way be better than the old. Yes, the current library is a listed building but it doesn’t work as well as it should for its visitors. It was built at a time when architects simply didn’t consider the needs of the disabled, the elderly, or parents with prams. Spread over three floors it is not nearly accessible enough.
The library is being leased “on the cheap”: residents are not only getting a new library; they are going to continue to benefit mightily from the old one. That is staying in overall public ownership and being let on a 25-year lease to the prep school next door to provide places that are in great demand in Kensington and Chelsea.
Thanks to our hard-nosed approach our property income has soared from £3.8 million in 2010-11 to £10.5 million in 2016-17. So be in no doubt, there have been no mate’s rates. We have negotiated a good deal on the old library that will help fund our vital services as we go into our sixth year of austerity.
There. Job done I hope. Despite the passionate intensity with which they were made, the claims of closures, asset stripping, mate’s rates, and social cleansing for that matter, are no more real than Russell’s planet-sized samovar.