Fears of a 'closure plan by stealth' on libraries despite reassurances

A Stansted Library protest was held earlier this year. Picture: SAFFRON PHOTO

Archive image from 2019: Library protest - Credit: Archant

The new leader of Essex County Council says there will be no library closures – a stark U-turn after years of turmoil and one of the council’s most controversial plans.

But Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) – the main campaign group against library closures – said while the decision is positive, it believes the threat remains of many libraries morphing into community hubs manned by volunteers.

A total of 25 libraries had been earmarked for closure with a further 19 at risk of closure. Another 18 other library services were also at risk if they could not be run by the community or other partners with support from the council.

Protestors outside Saffron Walden Library on Saturday. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Archive image: Protestors outside Saffron Walden Library - Credit: Archant

The council had been hoping to save an estimated £3.7 million with the closures and implemented changes.

In 2019, it was announced that no Essex libraries will close until at least 2024.

That decision came after a public consultation received 21,000 responses, over 1,000 letters and over 50 petitions.

A protest outside Saffron Walden library attracted cross-party unity.

And residents of Thaxted joined a demonstration outside County Hall in Chelmsford, led by district councillor for Thaxted, Councillor Martin Foley, and Dr Mike Tayler.

Kevin Bentley, deputy leader of Essex County Council, is urging members of the public and Essex High

Kevin Bentley, leader of Essex County Council - Credit: Archant

Cllr Bentley has now announced that no libraries will close at all – a decision met with scepticism from SOLE.

Andy Abbott from SOLE said: “He was also talking very much about so-called community hubs and libraries and this policy has not changed.

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“These charity shop libraries as far as SOLE is concerned is a closure plan by stealth because it means the smaller local library buildings will be sold off, the staff got rid of and voluntary groups will be expected to house and run the libraries. We do not believe this is a sustainable plan."

Cllr Bentley said: “No libraries will close. They want to become more than they are at the moment and become community hubs.

"Places that people can go – relax, read and learn.

"That is essential – they have proved to be great resources of excellence for people and I want that to continue. There will be professional staff there.

“I wouldn’t rule out volunteers because everyone has a part to play. If people want to volunteer and help people alongside professional staff they should be allowed to do so.”