By Lachlan Leeming BBC Local Government Correspondent
A senior councillor has moved to clarify comments made on Facebook concerning a controversial development.
Bromley Conservative Cllr Nicholas Bennett was talking about the relocation of Beckenham Library from its current site and commented “Homelessness just a rumour (sic) put round by those with nowhere to live” underneath a picture posted by the Save Beckenham Library Facebook group on Monday.
Several responses to the councillor’s comment expressed confusion at what he meant, with union Unite’s Bromley branch even issuing a statement demanding the West Wickham ward member clarify his post.
In response, Cllr Bennett told the local democracy reporting service that it was intended as an “ironic comment”, and accused protestors against the planned library relocation of “putting books before homes”.
“People who are protesting against this are protesting against new homes for those families,” Cllr Bennett, a Conservative who served as the MP for Pembrokeshire from 1987 to 1992, said.
He added there are currently 1,600 homeless families in the borough, and this project – which would see the library relocated to Beckenham Public Hall, with the current site then developed into council housing – would provide much-needed social housing stock for the authority.
“That’s why the council are proposing this, so we can build 40-odd homes (for them),” he said.
In their statement, Bromley’s Unite union branch called on Cllr Bennett to explain the meaning of his comment, adding that it was the first time he had spoken publicly on the controversial proposal.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “We live in a time where people often have remarks attributed to them falsely, sometimes by having identities hacked – so first of all we would want to hear from Cllr Bennett as to whether he accepts that the comments are indeed his. We are happy to give him this chance.”
“It is with some irony that the comment is made in connection with the closure and relocation of a library. Our members in Bromley Libraries have been on strike since 6 June and this is the closest I have heard him come to commenting about a library.”
It comes as a protest was held on Tuesday, a week after nearly 100 residents gathered to discuss their concerns over the move.
Critics say the new site is just a third of the size of the current one, while its relocation would take it away from a community “hub” which includes the nearby Beckenham Spa and Venue 28.
A decision on the proposal is set to be made by Bromley’s executive committee at their November 27 meeting at 7pm.
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