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Plans to close Harlow libraries could be illegal

News / Wed 12th Dec 2018 at 08:02am

By Local Democracy Reporter
Piers Meyler

ESSEX County Council has been told “lopping off” a third of its libraries could be against the law – as critics queued up to attack the leader and cabinet member responsible during a motion of no confidence.

Essex County Council’s consultation into the future of its library service proposes the closure of 25 libraries and the possible closure of 19 more, from a current total of 74 – categorised in four tiers based on the demand for each.

Tier ones and two, in urban areas, are to be retained under the proposals but tier three and four libraries could be closed if alternative solutions are not found as part of the consultation.

The provision of a comprehensive and efficient library service is a statutory responsibility of local government under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, which Cllr Chris Pond, of the Loughton Residents Association, said could not be met under the plans.

He told the council meeting on Tuesday (December 11): “The 1964 Act says quite clearly that the service must be comprehensive. For all the time I have been on Essex County Council, with 74 libraries in all, that service has been comprehensive. No one can challenge it.

“But by lopping off a third and leaving sizeable towns without a library, for example Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill, the cabinet member and through her, ECC, will simply put itself on the wrong side of the law. The terms of the Act will not be met.

“It is good enough to make the statement unsupported by evidence, saying that we do not need tier four libraries in order to provide a comprehensive service but that is just not true.

“It also makes a total mockery of the consultation process because that decision has already been taken – it says so in the document.”

Green Party councillor James Abbott added: “If you close so many libraries, that affects the geographical distribution and there is no longer an effective library service.”

At a fraught meeting of the Full Council, in which leader David Finch and Cllr Susan Barker, cabinet member for libraries, survived a no confidence motion brought in the wake of the plans, the administration argued falling numbers had to be addressed through “reimagining” what the service could offer.

Cllr Barker, who admitted she had “no idea” about how many library staff face being made redundant, said: “There has been an enormous downward trend in people using libraries.

“This consultation seeks to reverse those trends, it looks to see what we can co-locate with our library service.”

Kevin Bentley, deputy leader of the council, added: “It’s about those tough decisions you have to take at times when you are leading an authority of this size.

“We have gone through a particular great period of austerity and this council, under the leadership of my friend David Finch, has done great things to make this one of the most leading councils in the country.

“It takes brave people to take decisions and move forward and that is what we are doing here.”

The meeting was preceded with campaigners against the proposed closures gathering outside county hall.

One of the group, Andy Abbott, said: “The plans make no sense, any savings made will be just a tiny fraction of the county council’s overall budget.

“The council is only looking at the number of people withdrawing books but libraries are used for so much more than that. People go into read the papers, browse the shelves, use the wifi, and log onto the computers.

“Yet the council is not taking such use into account. I have myself in the last week used my local library twice, but on neither occasion have I withdrawn any books.”

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1 Comment for Plans to close Harlow libraries could be illegal:

m ingall
2018-12-12 08:49:10

Tye Green Library and Mark Hall Library are earmarked for closure as tier 4 libraries. Great Pardon Library is classified as a tier 3, it too will shut, unless residents buy or rent the building, staff it and pay all the bills, so in effect that will close too. Harlow Labour strongly oppose these savage cuts and our MP has joined us in voicing his opposition to the proposals. Unfortunately Harlow Tory Councillors Souter and Garnett were seen applauding Cllr Bentley's speech in support of the closures. Some things are important enough to transcend party politics, an act of cultural vandalism of the scale suggested by Essex County Council is one such thing. It is time Harlow's Tory Councillors joined with Harlow Labour, Harlow's Labour Parliamentary Candidate Laura McAlpine and the current (Tory) MP to send a clear message to Essex County Council... Save Our Libraries Essex, let the children read.

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