ANGRY campaigners have accused the city council of breaking the “spirit of the law” by allowing civil servants to approve changes to a listed building.

Opposition councillors will today submit a formal request that work be delayed pending a decision by elected councillors.

Substantial changes to the internal layout of the Grade II listed Carnegie Building – Hove Library – in Church Road were approved last month by officers after only four letters of objection were received in the statutory 21-day consultation period.

Other objections were received before the decision was made.

On Wednesday, planning chairwoman Councillor Julie Cattell said the decision made by officers was final.

But outraged opponents have asked why this case is being treated differently.

Valerie Paynter of the Save Hove Library campaign said: “Labour wants to get rid of that library, it’s a simple as that.

“Somebody has scrutinised the delegated powers scheme and realised we don’t have to do this publicly, we can work to the letter of the law.

“Conventionally they always take into account objections received up to decision time. It may have been done in the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law.”

The Conservation Advisory Group (Cag) recommended refusal but did not meet during the December 8 to December 29 consultation period.

The Cag met on January 9 and its recommendation was submitted afterwards. The officers’ decision was taken on March 20.

Brighton and Hove’s Heritage Commissioner Roger Amerena sits on the Cag.

Speaking yesterday in a personal capacity he said: “This was a city issue not a planning issue and it should have been decided by the full committee not by officers.

“There have been so many people involved over two years and there have been plans to move the library to turn it into offices, all sorts.

“Councillors, neighbours, societies, retailers – everyone had a finger in the pie. And now this has just been slipped through.”

Conservative councillor Andrew Wealls, who wrote an objection to the scheme which was submitted after the deadline, told The Argus yesterday his group will be moving a notice of motion to delay any works in the building until the decision has been discussed by councillors.

The plan under discussion would remove some of the library’s radiating bays on the ground floor, considered a heritage feature, to make room for an office.

Brighton and Hove City Council did not comment.

UPDATE: After The Argus filed this article for print the council sent the following comment:

The planning application for Hove Library was given careful consideration and supported by heritage specialists at the council, and the process for dealing with it was the same as for any other application.

The proposal was advertised on a notice outside the library on 8 December. People were given 28 days to comment – a week longer than the statutory consultation period of 21 days. It was also advertised in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 15 December.

As we only received four objections within the consultation period, the application was decided by council officers rather than being referred to the planning committee, in line with normal planning procedure*.

It is important that all applications are dealt with consistently and this means there is no scope for flexibility on how the procedure is applied. Late objections are only considered on applications already triggered, within the rules, to go to planning committee.

* The Scheme of Delegation (Pages 32/33) which is set out in council constitution is clear that five or more representations are needed within the consultation period to trigger a referral to committee.  Only four were received within the consultation period. Nine further representations were received but they were outside of the consultation period.

Brighton & Hove’s libraries are thriving. The number of book loans is on the increase and, unlike some parts of the country, the number of libraries in the city has not been reduced.

We are always working to enhance and develop our library services and last year advertised potential commercial space at Hove Library, to generate additional income to safeguard the library’s future and provide extra facilities for the community.

The move followed a public exhibition at the library last spring to gauge support for income generating ideas.  At the exhibition the idea of a cafe, where library users would be able to browse, read, and relax in comfort, was supported by 67% of people who gave comments. 77% also supported the idea of developing the basement area, currently not in public use, into a new commercial space such as an office, nursery or café.

The council is currently in advanced talks with a potential occupier for the basement of the library and an operator for a non-for-profit community café. These will not detract from the building’s primary use as a library, and we hope to provide more details soon once these negotiations are concluded. 

By securing additional income through compatible uses for the building we can ensure the library remains a going concern.

In preparation for letting out the basement, the application was made for listed building consent to relocate staff offices.