An All-Soulless story for North London library

Campaigners have responded with frustration to comments made by All Souls’ College representatives about the future of the Kensal Rise Library Building.

Margaret Bailey, a member of the Friends of Kensal Rise Library (FKRL) commented this week on behalf of the group that they were “bemused” by the “contradictory” attitude taken by All Souls, who control the building, and developer Andrew Gillick towards how the building would be redeveloped.

The north-west London library closed in spring 2012, causing ownership to revert to All Souls by law. The college exchanged contracts for sale of the building with Mr Gillick, head of development company Platinum Revolver, on the condition that at least 1500 square feet of the building continue to function as a library.

The development plans have been the subject of serious debate at community level. Mr Gillick was beset by allegations that letters to the council in support of his planning application, made in September, were fraudulent. Mr Gillick denied knowledge of such letters at the time, but the council nevertheless refused planning permission for Mr Gillick’s first development proposal.

All Souls has also come in from criticism in recent days. When a Private Eye article alleged that the college had “reneged on its covenant” with Brent Council, the college issued a statement saying it “regretted” the closure of the library, and that it “[did not renege] on any covenant”. All Souls claimed that it was “under no obligation” to ensure that a library continued to occupy part of the building, “but it has in fact done so”.

In a letter earlier this month, however, All Souls say that Mr Gillick will, as “Senior Land lord…have final say in the matter” of how the building is used. This is in contrast to an assurance earlier in the letter that the college agreed with Mr Gillick that “a minimum of 1500 square feet” will be put to use as a library for the community.

It is this contrast, labelled “contradictory” by FKRL, that has reignited the ongoing struggle for control of the building. Ms Bailey’s statement takes issue with the ambiguity of All Souls’ approach. In the statement she voices concern that the agreement between the college and Mr Gillick could be “unenforceable”, resulting in a building “with no effect or benefit for the community”.

The FKRL group has fought a long battle to retain use of the library, having staged a protest outside the college in Michaelmas last year. The campaign has received significant media attention, and won the support of such names as Alan Bennett, Zadie Smith, Philip Pullman and Michael Frayn.

The library itself has a distinguished history, having been opened by Mark Twain in 1900, and funded in part by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

All Souls is the third-wealthiest college in Oxford, with its financial endowment amounting to £245 million as of July 2012.