Villages vow to fight against county council plan to close libraries
PUBLISHED: 08:32 22 November 2018 | UPDATED: 11:52 22 November 2018
Parish councils and residents in Stansted Mountfitchet and Thaxted are fighting to save their libraries from being closed by Essex County Council.
Residents will be asked to have a say in a major consultation on plans to close 25 libraries across the county, including those in Stansted Mountfitchet and Thaxted.
The county council says traditional library use in Essex has collapsed in the last 10 years and there are 31 per cent fewer people using libraries in Essex now than there were in 2008.
Essex has the second-highest number of libraries in the UK and is in the top five counties nationally for spending on libraries – but with increasing costs and declining usage, the council says the service is no longer viable in its current form.
The future draft proposals aim to build online library services with fewer, but better libraries and more community-run libraries.
Councillor Susan Barker, cabinet member for customer services, said: “We want to introduce better library spaces where we do have them - smart, modern and comfortable – and where, for instance, you might be able to swipe in using a smart card, pick up parcels or bring your toddlers for rhyme time.
“We also have to make sure that we continue to offer value for money. That may mean some libraries are not viable. But if that is the case, we want to talk to communities about how they can become involved and run a library service with our support. The consultation is the opportunity to feedback on our plans and make sure that views are heard and considered.”
But Stansted resident Daniel Brett said the proposals are a major blow for the area. A new community hub in the village will be ready for use in February and Essex County Council agreed in 2013 to enter a minimum 10-year lease with Stansted Parish Council for the library section of the new building.
“The withdrawal of library services is a disaster for the community,” Mr Brett said. “We’re left with a white elephant in the heart of our community that will put thousands of pounds of costs on the parish council and no way of finding alternative revenue streams.”
A spokesman for Stansted Parish Council added: “Rest assured that we will fight robustly for the county council to honour its commitment which has been agreed for many years.”
Essex County Council said data on use, location and demographics had identified that it can provide a comprehensive library service in Essex without needing a library in Stansted Mountfitchet.
The clerk of Thaxted Parish Council, Dena Ludford, said residents and councillors in Thaxted were also in “uproar and dismay” at the proposed closure of their library.
“Many will know the library for its various community events, our little ones who regularly come to listen and join in to rhyme time, our local primary school who, year-after-year have supported and participated in the library summer reading challenge,” Ms Ludford said. “Couple this with the Citizens Advice Bureau who operate from this location on a scheduled appointment basis and the Uttlesford Foodbank who provide support to our local families who are most in need. We are a central hub to many smaller local and isolated rural villages and hamlets, where the use of their local library is not simply a part of a community - it is the heart of our far reaching community.”
Residents in Stansted Mountfitchet and Thaxted have set up petitions to stop the closure of their libraries.
Councillor Martin Foley for Thaxted and The Eastons said: “Local people are frankly appalled that Essex County Council has announced that at least 25 libraries could close in Essex, and they wish to make a particular plea to oppose the possible closure of Thaxted Library, which is a model of what a good modern community library should be, and is serving the people of Thaxted well.
“In response, there has been an immediate call to action in Thaxted with different groups and societies coming together. A petition has been launched, getting 500 signatures within days. Our MP and county councillors have been contacted to ask for their intervention.
“We in Thaxted will work together to keep this important community asset open serving our local people.”
MP Kemi Badenoch said she was disappointed to hear of the proposed closures.
“For many communities, libraries remain a key community asset and play a vital role for accessing educational services,” Mrs Badenoch said. “It is important to appreciate however that behaviour is changing and libraries aren’t used to the same extent or in the same manner as they once were. It is only fair to the taxpayer that the council makes sure they are getting value for money and continue to assess viability.
“I was glad to hear that the council are consulting with communities and will be looking at ways to offer more sustainable library services that can best meet the needs of the people that use them.”
A spokesman for Essex County Council said no decisions had been made and discussions are still ongoing with parish councils.
A consultation into the future of libraries in Essex launches on November 29 and will last 12 weeks through to February 20, 2019.
Visit www.essex.gov.uk/libraries-consultation for further information or to complete the consultation online.