No decisions on potential library closures in East Sussex have been taken and are not being ‘railroaded through’, according to Tory councillors.
Public facilities at Langney, Pevensey Bay, Willingdon, Polegate, Ore, Mayfield, and Ringmer could shut as part of plans included in the draft library service’s strategic commissioning strategy.
East Sussex County Council’s Cabinet agreed to a 12-week public consultation on the document when it met on Tuesday (September 19).
However Colin Swansborough (LDem, Hampden Park), chair of a cross-party scrutiny review board set up to look at the strategy, said he was ‘dismayed’ it had been given papers last Monday, just two days before its first meeting.
He said, “It’s appalling this is being put through with such indecent haste.”
He suggested library closures were being ‘railroaded through’, adding, “I think you have made up your minds.”
Keith Glazier (Con, Rye and Eastern Rother), leader of the county council, replied, “I think you need to be careful about what you are saying.
“I can assure you that is not the case.”
According to the council the proposals are aimed at targeting ‘increasingly limited resources to areas where they will have the greatest impact on improving residents’ lives’, as the number of people using East Sussex libraries has fallen by 40 per cent in the last decade. The mobile library service could also be axed.
The council claims users of the libraries under threat would still be in a reasonable distance of alternatives.
Bill Bentley (Con, Wealden East), lead member for communities and safety, said it was acknowledged residents ‘value’ their library and information service and any changes would ‘collect a range of emotive responses’.
He added, “There are no wrong ideas. This consultation will consider all comments and all suggestions to create that five-year strategy and to deliver a comprehensive and efficient library service for East Sussex within the available budget.”
Alan Shuttleworth (LDem, Langney) was one of several councillors to call for the current proposals to be withdrawn, which he described as the ‘totally wrong approach’. He said, “The real agenda is about closing and decimating the library service.”
Philip Daniel (LDem, Ringmer and Lewes Bridge) pointed out that Ringmer’s library, situated in the village hall, had actually seen an increased number of visitors compared to two years ago, despite cuts to opening hours.
He also asked what the council had done to boost awareness of the library service and increase visits.
Meanwhile Stephen Shing (Ind Dem, Willingdon and South Downs) opposed any closure of libraries in Polegate and Willingdon, and raised the level of development proposed in the area.
David Tutt (LDem, Eastbourne - St Anthony’s), leader of the Lib Dem group, called the proposals ‘shameful and short-sighted’, but suggested in the future libraries could be run by district and borough councils to avoid closures.
Tania Charman (Lab, Old Hastings and Tressell) raised the importance of access to computers and the internet in places such as Ore, which has high levels of deprivation.
But Roy Galley (Con, Maresfield and Buxted) described some of the contributions as ‘rather unfocused drivel’ and suggested if viable and cost effective community based solutions were raised in the consultation the council would listen to them.
He added, “This is about modernising the service and improving the online offering and outreach into the community.”
John Barnes (Con, Rother North West) said, “To boot the proverbial kettle down the road and not face the reality that people are no longer using libraries in the way they once did is really absurd.”