Response to Chiswick Library Development Plan


The exhibition of the plans mounted on display screens in the library is misleading. It gives an indication largely of the frontage with little illustration of the character of the sides and back of the proposed renovation and new building and therefore of the context in which it is situated.

Although more detailed plans are available in the Reference Library, these are not easily read by the lay public and a three-dimensional scale model would assist library users towards a clearer understanding of the plan as it would show the dimensions and give an indication of the overall impact of the proposal. The architect's office is bound to have such a model. Even a sketch model made of cardboard and boxwood or a computer model would be helpful.


The public would also like access to any existing earlier versions to have some idea of the thinking and perhaps to incorporate some of it into the final plan. Such a massive development on a prime site in a Conservation Area should have been open to competition so that the public has an opportunity to consider alternatives and participate in and understand essential compromises.


The present library building was gifted to the people of Chiswick (now part of the London Borough of Hounslow) in perpetuity, so long as it remained in use as a library. If it did not it was stipulated that it should revert to residential occupation. We cannot understand, in view of the terms and conditions of the Sanderson donation, how the Borough can give planning permission for change of use.

From what was said at the Public Meeting held on January 16th in Chiswick Town Hall, we understood that negotiations were in progress to sell the land to Barley Mow who would then lease it back to the Borough for 999 years at a peppercorn rent. This is not the same as perpetuity and appears to offer no guarantee of the rent remaining the same for the length of the lease.

There is considerable disquiet on both the above issues.


Without having made reference to the Development Plan so far as commercial development is concerned in this part of Chiswick, it would appear, on the face of it, that the scheme is far too large and unnecessarily so in that some of its present accommodation is unlet.

1.1 The location of the library
The library is squashed into the basement, what would have been not so long ago, the parking lot. This gives rise to several very major objections.

1.2 Disabled access
A chief impetus for rebuilding the library is the coming into force of the Disablement Discrimination Act in 2004 which would require costly alterations to the present building. This, in fact, would be preferable to locating it in the basement of an immense office complex the only means of ingress and egress being by lift or by a narrow stairway. This is a bizarre 'solution' to this particular challenge. Physically disabled people would be able to enter and leave the library only by using the lifts. The same is true for many other library users: parents with children in buggies, shoppers with heavy loads, the elderly, for example. There is no space allotted for parking prams. Many people suffer from lift phobia and are unable to use them unless accompanied.

The library is, in addition, expected to share the basement with the kitchen for the café on the first floor, and the plant for the entire complex. This leaves little room for doubt that the whole scheme is primarily for the huge expansion of a commercial workspace building with a library grudgingly fitted in underneath along with the amenities.

1.3 Safety factors
Since two lifts are the only means of entering and leaving the library for the above mentioned and other users, there is a consequent fire hazard. The two prime places for the outbreak of fire are waste disposal units and lift motor rooms. Lift manufacturers are aware of this so that fire alarm systems are linked to lift mechanisms ensuring that the latter automatically cut out if the alarm goes off. Thus, there would be no way for the disabled to escape. Nor would there be any guarantee that both lifts would be in the basement at the time.
There is also the danger of leaks from the high water table. A basement is far from an ideal location for the storage of books and other paper based material, above all for the unique and irreplaceable local archives. Floods have many causes: drains overflowing in the adjacent streets, burst water mains etc.

1.4 Lighting, ventilation and views
The basement location obviously presents the problem of lighting and ventilation inadequately dealt with by a light well descending from the roof. The lack of window space bars views onto the living world beyond which in the words of one critic 'might well succeed in turning our library into one of these joyless…public places where the desire to browse and linger evaporates completely.' (Carol Lofthouse, BCIT 01 02 02) May we add 'airless.' Such an environment is ideal for the spread of germs and viruses.

2. The Café

The daylit and and characterful space where the library should be located for the reasons listed above - particularly those pertaining to inheritance and disablement - is stolen for an entirely unnecessary café, a particular facility in which Chiswick more than abounds. There are numerous choices within minutes of walking distance from the site. Barley Mow insist on this location as no other would be franchisable to an outside provider: yet another Starbucks, Café Rouge, or a Wine Bar. This additional facility is not meant for workers at Barley Mow who would benefit from a short walk elsewhere, and is, as we say, utterly redundant. We most firmly oppose the Sanderson building being subjected to this misuse. If the café were for the use of workers on site, it could reasonably be situated in the basement next to the kitchen.

3. Parking

3.1 We sympathise with the government's restrictions on parking space in order to discourage the use of cars. We object to what would have been this space being used to house a public library.

3.2 The paucity of parking space coupled with the over development of the site will add to the unsustainable traffic problems in this congested area.

3.3 Many public service workers, such as librarians and their assistants, have to travel in order to get to and from their place of employment at a time when public transport is in a crisis of disarray; like nurses, doctors and teachers they cannot pay Chiswick rents and prices so there should be some parking spaces reserved for them.


1. Calculations
Have calculations been made as to the numbers of users in their various categories? The days of the week and the times of day when demand will be heaviest? Does the floor space meet the government's recommended standard for the population the library is designed to serve? Is there sufficient allowance for change and growth in an era when libraries are on the front line of the information revolution?

2 Open plan
An open plan has the advantage that it can, within limits, be rearranged to suit changing circumstances and is economical on staffing. It also has disadvantages, one of the most serious being noise - the noises of photocopying machines and computers (especially if readers bring their own in order to take notes) in an environment which for its very purpose should be tranquil.

3 Contained spaces

3.1 Discrete needs are best served by discrete spaces. It is acknowledged that the children's library must be separated from the adult's but within the adult area there also needs to be containment.

3.2 There is extremely strong feeling, even universal, that the Reference Library should be a contained quiet space with a staffed information desk, seating for at least the present number i.e. about 50, reference materials which should not be integrated into the lending stock. What we have at present is highly valued and there is alarm that it is to be lost. Students, researchers, readers need these facilities. It would make nonsense of the government's view of the library as a major partner in the provision of community development to abandon such a widely used and appreciated service.

3.4 The local history collection with its valuable items must be kept securely but accessibly in a discrete space where librarians and users can interact.

3.5 The library also requires its own public meeting and exhibition space , that is a large meeting room for about 80 people, a smaller room for committee meetings, and space for exhibitions, all for local groups, if it is to fulfil its function as envisaged by the government. Readings, discussions, lectures, training sessions, meetings of book societies and film groups etc. must be accommodated if the demands being made upon it are to be honestly met. Libraries are not just about lending and borrowing, browsing and reading! Free public space is crucial to the library's role in promoting public engagement with the many facets of its work.


These could last for at least two years which is a very long time indeed. Without going into detail of the severe inconveniences that the closure of our library will entail, we register the concern felt and the uninterrupted need for the kinds of spaces and facilities mentioned above.

Details of Public Meeting and discussion of plans