Greenwich Council’s leader and deputy leader have washed their hands of the sale of an old library to a church whose head called gay marriage “evil” – pinning the responsibility on a senior council officer instead.
East Greenwich Library, which closed in 2015, was sold in 2019 for £1.8 million to the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which has over 40,000 churches around the world.
For the past 40 years the church has been run by Pastor Enoch Adeboye, who has used both his pulpit and social media to espouse ultra-conservative values. He has branded gay marriage “evil” and said that married women “need to know how to do chores”.
Danny Thorpe, the council leader, insisted that he “certainly didn’t sign off on a piece of paper that said we’re selling the library to a bunch of homophobes”.
The disposal was not made public until it was revealed by a Metro investigation into the sale of public buildings, which was published over Christmas.
The library was donated to the community in 1905 by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It served as the central library for the old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich but was downgraded in the 1990s and suffered years of neglect before its closure and replacement by the Greenwich Centre Library.
Under questioning from opposition Conservative leader Nigel Fletcher, the council’s deputy leader Denise Scott-McDonald said that the decision had been delegated to Pippa Hack, the council’s director of regeneration, enterprise and skills after a decision was made in March 2007 to sell the building.
“Once the decision was made in 2007 it was handed on to officers to deal with – that’s pretty much it,” Scott-McDonald said. At the time the council was led by Chris Roberts, who left in 2014 after a series of bullying accusations, with the sale proceeds due to fund the new library.
Bad-tempered exchanges followed when Fletcher challenged Thorpe on how the sale was allowed to happen, with the council leader accusing Fletcher – who leads the only other party represented on the council – of jumping on a bandwagon.
“As the leader of the council, is he comfortable that a library which was donated to the community has been sold to a church the ehad of which has said that same sex marriage is evil and has made other derogatory comments about women,” he said.
“Those values do not reflect our values as a borough, do not reflect his values, and I and other people find them profoundly offensive.
“Under his leadership, this council has sold a public building to that organisation. Is he comfortable with that, how did it happen, and what is he going to do about it?”
Thorpe said the council “had to sell to invest in better facilities”.
Referring to the Conservatives’ austerity programme – which began three years after the decision to sell the library – he added: “If you go and up and down the country you will see Carnegie libraries that have been sold because of the disgusting actions of your Conservative government.
“This bandwagon that you’re suddenly on after 11-12 years of slashing money that was used to fund libraries – it’s so convenient at this particular time.
“Do I think this man’s views are right, of course I don’t. Do I think they’re abhorrent – yes I absolutely do.
“I have done more than most to make sure that LGBTQI++ rights are advanced in this council and I will continue to do so.”
Thorpe then launched into a personal attack on Fletcher, referring to his day job: “As someone who is an academic outside this place, I am perfectly clear that you understand what delegated decision-making means”.
“Property disposals are subject to all sorts of rigour and rules,” he said.
“Do I like the decisions? No I don’t. Was this the correct decision as agreed in terms of the law, and the council decisions that were taken? Well clearly it was,” Thorpe continued.
“I certainly didn’t sign off on a piece of paper that said we’re selling the library to a bunch of homophobes but I and every single member of the cabinet are working flat out with more than 100 organisations who have signed up to our equality and equity charter, so if you want to get involved with that and make more productive use of your time, you’re more than welcome.”
A council spokesperson told 853 last month: “The church has assured the council in the past that it is not homophobic.”
Greenwich’s Labour chair of scrutiny, Chris Lloyd, who also represents the Peninsula ward where the old library is, has also criticised the sale and said he will investigate.
Edited at 1pm on Friday to clarify a Danny Thorpe quote.
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