Brent council's plan to close six of its 12 libraries was made "with great care and expressed attention to the 1964 Act" and other relevant legislation, the High Court heard yesterday (20th July).
The council had faced assertions on the opening day of the judicial review into Brent's library closure plans that it had breached its duty under the Act, formulating its budget without making a proper assessment of residents' needs.
But Elizabeth Laing QC, representing the council, told the judge Mr Justice Ouseley that the structure of the decision-making process had followed a standard local authority model. She said: "If it is to be suggested that it involves unlawful pre-determination that would make it extremely difficult for any local authority to make decisions in an orderly way."
Laing said the council's decision to close its libraries was a "rational" one supported by "extensive evidence both from a specific consultation exercise and evidence from a range of other sources". She also told the court the financial context of the council's decision, and the issue of resources, was a relevant consideration in the council's assessment of need.
Any question about whether the library service provided by Brent council was "comprehensive and efficient" as the Act requires was in fact a question for the secretary of state and the complaint should be made to him rather than to the court, Laing said. "In order to establish a breach of duty a wide-ranging inquiry is needed, one which the secretary of state is better equipped to conduct and call," she told the court.
Earlier Helen Mountfield QC, representing the claimants, said Brent Council had failed to comply with its public sector equality duties in deciding to close six of its 12 libraries, saying the council did not analyse the disproportionate impact of its library closures on young people and religious and ethnic communities.
While 43% of Brent library users are under 19, she said an analysis by the claimants' legal team showed 50.4% of active borrowers in the six libraries being closed are in that category. Similarly, the libraries chosen for closure have disproportionately high levels of youths from Muslim and Hindu communities, Mountfield told the court.
The judicial review continues today.