Bid to stop Harlow libraries closures fail (but campaign far from over)

By Local Democracy Reporter
Piers Meyler

THE proposed closure of up to a third of libraries in Essex will worsen social equality and impact women and children the hardest, a specially convened Essex County Council meeting has heard.

The extraordinary meeting of Essex County Council had been called by opposition parties in a bid to end plans to close 25 libraries and hand over several more to their communities.

However an amendment was passed which stopped short of ruling out any closures but agreed to explore using libraries as community hubs.

The council had argued that book loans are down by 52 per cent in the past 10 years and the demand for computers is down 34 per cent in 10 years.

Fewer than one in five people in Essex is an active library user, while demand for e-books has trebled.

In a bid to slash costs by £3.7million, 25 of the county’s 74 libraries have been earmarked for closure by 2024, across areas including Chelmsford, Harlow and Basildon.

Another 19 libraries are also at risk of shutting down, it has been revealed.

In a report by the council on the Essex Future Library Services Strategy, it lists and categorises every library in the county.

However it had also been accused of adding to social inequalities.

Almost 60,000 have signed petitions opposed to the plans. More than 23,000 have responded to a consultation which is being analysed before a final decision is expected for each library in the autumn.

Green councillor James Abbott said: “This Tory administration has completely misjudged the public view.

“People are fed up with austerity. They are fed up with consultations that are simply about cuts to services. It takes so much of their time and draws people’s energy just to keep their services.

“Communities and councillors will each have their own reason for keeping a library open. For me it’s about the rural libraries Silver End, Coggeshall and Kelvedon.

“If the Tories close these libraries you are forcing people to drive or get a bus to Witham or Braintree. You are taking away part of our community safety net to prevent rural isolation.”

Cllr Tricia Reid, Labour, said libraries provide a quiet space for children in cramped, noisy and disruptive homes to study well and effectively.

She said: “The proposed closure of these libraries in challenged areas of Basildon offer an essential service and we are proposing to deny these students the access to much needed facilities.”

Speaking after the meeting cabinet member for libraries, Susan Barker, said there will be a detailed equality impact equality assessment for every single library.

She said: “I don’t want a single library to close. I want to work with the community but I need 74 conversations.”

She added it was not clear how much will be invested in those libraries that remain.

She said: “It has not been decided at all – some of our libraries like Chelmsford which is a tier 1 or Dunmow which is tier 2 don t need any investment.

“Somewhere else like Harlow needs a lot of investment – it’s tired and old and we want it to be new and exciting.

“There are so few libraries even in tier 4 which have not received an expression of interest either in the community or a dual organisation.

“If we have not heard from communities by June the strategy says it will close. But we will do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t.”

She added: “It is happenstance where our libraries are.”

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4 Responses to "Bid to stop Harlow libraries closures fail (but campaign far from over)"

  1. Pytr Kropotkin   March 13, 2019 at 11:31 am

    The bid to stop the closures, in Harlow or anywhere else in Essex, has not in any final sense failed. This was a mere battle, in a longer war, and this outcome does not represent a victory for either side.

    Nor should you expect the ‘final decision’ in the autumn, to be an end to the matter.

    By the way the saving is not £3.7m, but closer to £2m in fact; from a total (including schools). budget of around £1.8bn.

    And ‘where our libraries are’ is far from ‘happenstance’ Local authorities have a statutory duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 ‘to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons’ in the area that they want to make use of it.

  2. tony edwards   March 13, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    I attended the Extraordinary Meeting of Essex County Council.

    The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Essex Library Strategy which includes plans to close three of Harlow’s Libraries – Staple Tye, Tye Green and Mark Hall.

    Attending on behalf of the people of Harlow were three out of four Conservative Essex County Councillors, Mike Garnett, Clive Souter and Eddie Johnson.

    These County Councillors also happen to be Harlow District Councillors, who on the 18th of December passed a unanimous vote at a Harlow Council meeting which expressed concern at the proposed closure of the Libraries and urged the County Council to keep them open.

    On 7th of January Cllrs Mark Ingall (Labour Leader of Harlow Council} and Andrew Johnson (Conservative Opposition Leader) wrote to Cllr Susan Barker (Essex County Council Cabinet Member responsible for the Library Strategy) – explaining the Council’s concerns. They stated that that “The threat to close three Libraries in Harlow runs completely against the needs of the Town”, and requested a meeting so that they “could look to find a solution which would ensure the long term future of Harlow’s Libraries”. To date no reply has been received.

    So my question is why – when there was an opportunity to advocate on behalf of the residents of Harlow did the town’s Conservative County Councillors remain silent?

    Other County Councillors spoke about their Libraries in Colchester, Basildon, Saffron Walden, Chelmsford etc., in all over 30 County Councillors spoke – but there was no Harlow voice, it was as if Harlow didn’t exist!

    So what is the position of Harlow’s Conservative County Councillors on this matter and how will they stand up for the Town and oppose these proposed closures? The fight to save the libraries goes on and thee people of Harlow have a right to know.

    Cllr Tony Edwards
    Toddbrook Ward

  3. D.p.l   March 13, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    This must most definitely being a message to the residents of Harlow, that the councillors two main parties of this town are only it in for themselves.
    They have both increased the council Tax every year which even hard working families find hard to keep up with.
    The Harlow Labour administration party 6 times and the Essex county council Conservative administration party once.
    And for what? The residents of Harlow do not receive any better service from the Harlow Labour administration party such as street cleaning, Home improvements or any reduction in anti social behaviour and the same goes for the service that the residents of Harlow are or more like are not receiving from the Essex county council administration Conservative party, such as improvements in road and pavements repairs, street lights working or staying on and school being kept up to standard.
    The residents of Harlow should not face any more increases in council tax and they all deserve a much better service and deserve to have a change and come May they will all have the opportunity to vote for a much better service and for change.
    Love Harlow vote ukip.

  4. D.p.l   March 13, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    This must,most definitely be a clear message to the residents of Harlow, that the councillors of the two main parties of this town are only it in for themselves and their own pockets.
    They have both increased the council Tax every year which even hard working families find hard to keep up with.
    The Harlow Labour administration party 6 times and the Essex county council Conservative administration party once.
    And for what? The residents of Harlow do not receive any better service from the Harlow Labour administration party such as street cleaning, Home improvements or any reduction in anti social behaviour and the same goes for the service that the residents of Harlow are or more like are not receiving from the Essex county council administration Conservative party, such as improvements in roads and pavements repairs, street lights working or staying on and school being kept up to standard.
    The residents of Harlow should not face any more increases in council tax and they all deserve a much better service and deserve to have a change and come May they will all have the opportunity to vote for a much better service and for change.
    Love Harlow vote ukip.

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