The closure of seven libraries across East Sussex has been approved by the county council’s cabinet today (Tuesday March 6).
Langney, Mayfield, Ore, Pevensey Bay, Polegate, Ringmer and Willingdon libraries are set to shut in early May.
The Tory-led East Sussex County Council, which held a 12-week consultation on its draft Libraries Strategic Commissioning strategy late last year, is also set to scrap the mobile library service.
The decision to approve the strategy was made by the authority’s Cabinet.
However community groups will have the chance to put forward viable proposals to take over the running of any of the seven libraries or the mobile library service.
The strategy is set to save the council £653,000, but also includes a new community library card, homework and study clubs in libraries and increased outreach work in the county’s most disadvantaged communities, while there would also be greater investment in the eLibrary.
Council analysis claimed that all of the members of the seven libraries due to close live within a 20-minute car journey of one of the proposed 17 remaining libraries, with the vast majority within a 30-minute journey time by public transport.
Officers described how the commissioning strategy was not based on library usage but current and future need, as well as taking into account reasonable access to services.
APPEALS TO SAVE LIBRARIES
Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd primarily spoke about saving Langney Library which he argued ‘performs an incredibly important role in the community’.
He described both the consultation as ‘flawed’ and the strength of feeling across the county to keep the libraries open.
Mum-of-three Danielle Budden, speaking for Save Polegate Library, described it as an ‘essential hub for the community’ and suggested families wanting to go to rhymetime and story sessions would struggle to visit Hailsham and Eastbourne due to ‘little or no parking facilities’.
Keira Boniface, head girl at Polegate School, described the library as a ‘place of peace and quiet and a relaxed environment away from our busy and stressful lives’, adding: “Reading from a young age is so important because it develops the mind, it teaches our children to read, helps them develop their language skills, and helps them to learn to listen.”
Liz Owen, from the Save Ringmer Library group, explained how the saving by closing the village’s library was only around £7,300 a year, as it was included in the village hall.
She said: “It’s outrageous and sad this county council is considering throwing all of this goodwill away to save less than £8,000 a year.
“We feel it makes no sense on any level to close Ringmer Library.”
John Pritchett, chairman of Willingdon and Jevington Parish Council, said Willingdon Libray had been a community hub for decades and its closure would not only affect schoolchildren, but the most isolated and vulnerable in the community.
He raised the thousands of extra car movements which would be generated by library users driving to alternative locations.
He added: “I hope those of you who have voted for an increase in your allowances will be able to rest easy in the knowledge of the enormous distress and expense this will cost our residents, including your future voters, our young people who wrote to you pleading to keep the libraries open.”
ALL RESPONSES WERE CONSIDERED
Bill Bentley, lead member for communities and safety, described how all the submissions had been considered by the library team and he had read all of them.
But he added: “The responses demonstrate that the closure of libraries and the mobile library are unpopular for those who use them.
“However most people who are affected are able to use the services through alternative means although I recognise they may not wish to do so.
“I’m entirely sympathetic with the views expressed by each of the communities, but we are in a situation where to deliver the library service within the available budget it does leave us with some difficult decisions having to be considered.”
Visits to libraries across East Sussex are down by 40 per cent over the last decade, according to council officers.
But in the face of this Carl Maynard, lead member for adult social care and health, pointed out how the county council had invested more than £20m in its libraries over the last decade.
CONSULTATION A ‘MUDDLE’
However the Lib Dems said it was ‘inappropriate’ to consult on the wider library strategy at the same time as plans to close seven libraries.
Alan Shuttleworth described it as a ‘muddle’ with respondents finding it difficult to single out their library in their comments.
He asked how the council would save money by closing Langney Library as it had a lease until 2023.
Offices explained it had a break clause in 2020 and would look to sub-let the unit until then.
David Tutt, leader of the Lib Dem group, echoed criticism of the consultation as ‘flawed’ as he felt the Tories had predetermined it by approving savings from the library service in the 2018/19 budget back in February.
Trevor Webb, leader of the Labour group, called the travel times to alternative libraries ‘unrealistic’ and raised the high cost of public transport in the county.
He described libraries as a ‘sanctuary’ especially for children in low-income families.
He said: “What you are doing is taking away sanctuary and learning experiences from some of our most deprived children.”
Fellow Labour councillor Godfrey Daniel welcomed the investment in Hastings Library and suggested the cuts were being driven by central Government decisions to reduce grant funding to local authorities.
But he also questioned what residents could actually have said during the consultation to change the county council’s minds and stop the closures.
Stephen Shing, leader of the Independent Democrats group, suggested at the very least the council should keep either Polegate or Willingdon’s library open and raised concerns about transport costs for the children and the elderly to either Hailsham or Eastbourne.
Fellow Independent Democrat Daniel Shing described how he had tried the drive to Eastbourne Library and had struggled to find anywhere to park.
FUTURE OPTIONS FOR LIBRARIES
Conservative Richard Stogdon pointed out the comprehensive the detailed analysis behind the library strategy and suggested it was time for change, review and adjustment, giving the falling the number of visitors to libraries.
He said: “The fact remains that there is the opportunity if local communities want to take up different vehicles to do so.”
Tory Laurie Loe, who represents Baird and Ore in Hastings, described how the library in his division could continue to be run from Ore Community Centre.
He described how while he would continue working to ensure whatever the outcome of the meeting Ore continued to have a library and a ‘lack of real action’ from Labour.
Meanwhile Tom Liddiard, councillor for Pevensey and Stone Cross, outlined his similar efforts to retain library provision in Pevensey Bay, with two potential bids to continue the service.
Several opposition members called for transitional funding to be made available for communities willing to take libraries on and a time extension before they are closed in May.
But Peter Pragnell, vice-chairman of the council, said: “If [opposition] members had been positive since this began you would already have had three months and another two months to go.”
He described Tory councillors’ ‘positive way of dealing with what is not a happy situation’.
Conservative councillor Roy Galley added: “You can’t keep old out of date services running at the same time as improving education, children’s services, social care, public health provision and so on.
“We have to make these tough choices and so for some things time has moved on and we are refocusing where we spend our money.”
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