High Court reviews for library closures

Somerset and Gloucestershire county councils have been landed with a judicial review in the High Court over their plans to close over 20 libraries.

Somerset County Council plans to withdraw funding for 11 libraries while Gloucestershire wants to shut the doors to 10, along with four out of six mobile library routes.

Public interest lawyers filed the High Court claim yesterday (3rd May), arguing the councils are in breach of their statutory obligations to provide an "efficient and comprehensive library service" to the public.

The lawyers also allege the councils did not hold proper consultations before the decision to axe the libraries was made. Somerset consulted for only a month, over the Christmas period, and Gloucestershire's consultation process was  still on-going when they made their decision.

One of the claimants, Rebecca Hird, from Watchet in Somerset, said: "It is a disgrace that the library is being closed. Watchet is a small town, and there are very few local amenities remaining since the council closed the youth centres."

Gloucestershire County Council leader Mark Hawthorne said: "Our library strategy goes beyond providing a 'comprehensive and efficient library service'.

 "It's frustrating to be forced into a costly legal process in a difficult financial climate and when we are focusing on supporting the many communities working hard to make a success of running local services."

A spokesman for Somerset County Council said: "We are confident that the council has acted appropriately and in the meantime will continue with work needed to implement the budget reduction agreed by full council."

Meanwhile, the East Anglian Daily Times reports that Suffolk County Council has U-turned on its decision to hand over the running of 29 libraries to local community groups—which could have meant the closure of all if no one stepped forward to take responsibility.

Demonstrations against the plans have lead to the council decision to retain ultimate responsibility for running libraries—although communities will have an opportunity to help run individual branches.

While there is no guarantee that all branches will be retained, the EADT reported cabinet member with responsibility for libraries Judy Terry said: "I really hope that all libraries will remain open, ultimately we would like to be able to see new libraries created for  communities across the county."

The libraries are set to be run by a community interest company which will be fully owned by the county council—but will include representatives of communities across Suffolk as well as councillors and officials.