Claims of asset stripping are junk

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.

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9 thoughts on “Claims of asset stripping are junk

  1. Nick,
    I love our beautiful library and really hope RBKC can relent and enable us locals to keep the building for public use.
    I’ve asked you before, as have others, to work with us to develop an arts and voluntary sector resource centre there.
    Notting Hill Prep can surely be offered another building to rent, to continue to expand its business.
    Then everyone would be happy. The much loved listed community building would be developed into a centre of excellence, offering as warm a welcome to the prep school pupils as to those of our local children who attend RBKC’s excellent state schools. We could even create a chance for some well needed social mingling in a lovely setting.
    Everyone I know from every background, really wants to keep the building open for the whole community, and to help RBKC do so.
    Lizzie

    • Not everyone loves the present library but everyone will be able to enjoy the new one. I think the Tabernacle, also supported by the Council, is doing a great job at providing a vibrant arts programme.

      • Yes the Tab is fab, especially for performing arts and socialising, but there is also room to cater for the visual artists, social entrepreneurs and designers in North Ken. It would be wonderful to make a visual artists creative centre and voluntary sector base. If allowed, we could make it into something splendid, used by all and add it to RBKCs portfolio of cutting edge venues.

  2. The library protesters are really clear that their concern is about access to the building. They are not claiming that the library is being closed. The building is historically important as well as architecturally interesting. It is reasonable for a community to ask for consultation about the future of building built by public donation and essentially in the guardianship of RBKC. Clearly, there is some feeling that the building itself is an asset, which would contextualise the charge of asset stripping.

    Children of at least one RBKC councillor are on the waiting list for NHP, so it certainly looks like something matey is happening. It is reasonable for people on whose behalf the council has acted ask questions about this. It would be really useful if you could engage with these issues rather than dismiss them out of hand.

    You invoke austerity but it is a bit disingenuous as (a) you are the wealthiest council in the 5th largest economy in the world (b) you are also citing the way you have increased income significantly in the last few years. The council has cash reserves which it has used to support what it regards as important local institutions.

    You make the point that the current building isn’t accessible enough, but I think your solution – make it completely and utterly unavailable to all but a very few, i.e. less accessible – makes no sense. Perhaps you could use some of that money from your ‘hard-nosed’ approach to modify the building for accessibility and use by the whole community. It is an important and beautiful building, built by the community and for the community.

    It’s a shame you’ve chosen publicly to dismiss the whole issue on the basis of the emotive rhetoric used by some of the protesters. It would not take a massively clever person to see that the emotive language is an indice of the strength of feeling, about an issue that you reasonably could and should engage with. Why not move into dialogue with the community about this? It does you no favours to dismiss their questions out of hand, and if the council has acted fairly and properly, it can do you no harm to engage their actual concerns. Why not revisit this decision given the strength of feeling? Why not entertain alternative uses for that building? Why not consult the community affected negatively by this decision?

    Clearly, you do not like the emotive rhetorical strategies of the library supporters. But this is no reason not to engage with their actual concerns. You ask the community to see through the emotive terms, but we might equally dismiss the rhetorical strategies of your prose, your appeals to ‘clever men’ and their ‘elegant’ arguments, as so much middle class posturing. But I think we can all agree that it’s tiresome when either side object to the framing, rather than substance, of the argument. So why not speak to the library protesters’ actual concerns, and treat their position as serious and worthy of consideration? People don’t give their time and energy to local issues because they have nothing better to do than vaguely harass local politicians. You should at least take heart that saving the library building for public use is a small-c conservative agenda and embrace the protesters as committed local people with interests that might overlap your own.

    • I’m afraid protestors did indeed claim that the library was being closed and somehow forgot to mention our plan to build a state of the art library across the road. They also claimed that North Kensington was being stripped of its assets. You can call such claims a “rhetorical strategy” if you like, I know what I call it.

      I look forward to visiting the new library.

      • The protestors are campaigning for access to the building. It’s on their petition, it’s on their Facebook page. Please will you engage with the actual arguments they make? And also could you please respond to the rest of my points? I don’t understand why you are not willing to move into dialogue about this.

  3. Maxilla Childrens Centre, Issac Newton School, Westway Information Centre, Wornington Road Adult Education Centre, community rooms on Lancaster West Estate, The London Lighthouse, Inn on the Green. Shall I go on?

    • As I say, we have built a new secondary academy and a new leisure centre, we have rebuilt Middle Row Primary and will rebuild Barlby Primary, we are building a new special school, we are refurbishing Colville Primary, we are rebuilding St Anne’s and Avondale Park nursery, we are underwriting a Crossrail station, we have built a new children’s home, we have invested heavily in Little Wormwood Scrubs and a new pavilion at Avondale and we are trying to build many hundreds of new homes, including homes for older people.

      Set against that, your list of assets allegedly stripped looks decidedly thin, especially when you factor in the following:

      the Inn on the Green isn’t actually ours
      The Lighthouse isn’t ours either
      Lancaster West has a fine new community room and we funded it
      And the Wornington Road Adult Education Centre is still in use as part of Kensington and Chelsea College.

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