With all that has been going on in the mayoral election, one of the most important issues that I was involved in while at the East London Advertiser, the successful campaign to save Bancroft History Library and Archives (we won a press award for it), has slipped under my radar.
When he was council leader, Lutfur Rahman changed his mind about the need to save the old Vestry Hall in Mile End despite a desire by a coterie of councillors led by Josh Peck and Denise Jones to sell it to Queen Mary University. Lutfur’s was a welcome decision.
Earlier this year, I understand that a senior council officer (I will name her once I get confirmation) promised that £350,000 of section 106 money from a Telford Homes development in Bethnal Green would be used to fund Bancroft’s leaking roof.
In August, the council’s strategic development committee decided to use that Telford Homes s106 cash to bail out the failing Rich Mix arts centre. Councillors on the committee agreed to transfer £500,000 as a first instalment, with the possibility of another £1.5m to come.
The Save Bancroft Library campaign tell me that this means the £350k promised to repair the history archives has been ditched, diverted to Rich Mix instead. If so, that is a disgrace.
Some 14 councillors had objected to the decision to help Rich Mix and they included Lutfur Rahman and many of those who now back him. It is to their credit.
I’ve just put the following question to Helal Abbas:
Under your mayoralty, would the local history library and archives remain at the Bancroft vestry hall?
His answer was this:
Yes, it will.
This suggests that Bancroft is safe whoever wins.
My next question to him is whether the building itself will remain under council ownership so that the downstairs section, which is currently empty, will be also be used for an expanded archive and history service – something that will protect the multicultural heritage of our borough.
I’ll update later.
UPDATE – 8.15pm, Tuesday October 19
Abbas has just called me to discuss Bancroft. Here’s what he said:
“I guarantee that Bancroft will remain in council ownership under my mayoralty. But I can’t make any commitment on funding at the moment because we don’t know yet what our finances will be. What I will commit to is trying to source funding for the building, either from the council budget, or section 106 money or through some kind of sponsorship. I want the library and archives to be a place of excellence and a resource for my children and for all other children in the borough. Our shared heritage is vitally important to our community.”
I then asked whether s106 money had been diverted from Bancroft to Rich Mix at cabinet meeting in July. Here’s his answer:
“The s106 money from the Telford Homes development was for Bethnal Green and that’s why it is going to Rich Mix under very strict criteria. When Lutfur was leader, he had the chance to put Bancroft into the s106 pool, but he didn’t.”
I have a problem with the first part of this. The details of the s106 agreement for that development can be seen on p47 of this document.
Point 4 of the document states:
“£2,093,098 for cultural, social and community products and for the provision of work space offsite.”
There is no restriction on where that money can be allocated, although, arguably, the phrase “work space off site” could be a valid interpretation.
As I mentioned above, I’m told that £350k of s106 was agreed by senior council officer Heather Bonfield earlier this year. If anyone has the minutes for the relevant minutes of the Bancroft Steering Group, please email me them.