Final chapter for Lytham and Freckleton libraries

Lytham Library
Lytham Library
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It’s the final chapter for two Fylde libraries - and two others are set to follow in their present form in the coming months.

Lytham and Freckleton will both close their doors as Lancashire County Council-run services for good tomorrow after an 11th hour bid to reverse the decision to shut more than 100 buildings across Lancashire was defeated.

Freckleton Library

Freckleton Library

Meanwhile, Kirkham’s library facility is set to move to a nearby new neighbourhood centre and Ansdell Library will remain open for some time yet while the facility at St Annes - the only Fylde library set to survive in its current form – is converted into a neighbourhood centre.

No precise timescale has been offered for those measures, with the county council saying it could happen any time between January next year and March 2020.

In the meantime, bids to run Lytham and Ansdell libraries as community libraries, staffed by volunteers, are being considered and it is understood that it will be next month before the outcome of those is known.

The county council say that, despite the closures, no immediate redundances are planned, with staff to be transferred to other libraries in the area, although that situation is likely to be subject to review in the longer term.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies said he was ‘disappointed but not surprised’ that the 11th hour bid for a reprieve failed - and has asked for Culture Secretary Karen Bradley to review the decision.

He said: “The county council appears to have been determined to push its plans through and the public consultation merely paid lip service to the democratic process.

“Monday’s meeting then seemed to be more about attempting to score political points rather than coming up with a solution to retain services for residents.

“I can only hope that the haste with which they are closing these much-loved libraries indicates that they are working to hand them over to community organisations to try to ensure library services are still available in communities which Lancashire County Council has abandoned.”

Meanwhile, Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard, whose constituency includes Thornton and Cleveleys libraries, both to close, has written to the libraries minister calling for a public inquiry into the county council consultation process and decision.

Lytham Ratepayers councillors Mark Bamforth and Roger Lloyd feel a public inquiry is needed into the future of Lytham library - and are supporting the bid by the Lytham Library Working Group, initiated by the Arts Partnership for Fylde and including representation from the Lytham Heritage Group and the Lytham St Annes Civic Society, to run the library as a community facility.

Couns Bamforth and Lloyd said: “Lytham library is a beautiful and large grade 2 listed building with many rooms and facilities. It would be a crime if this community facility was taken away.

“The library could be used more extensively as a place of education, with night classes, day classes, citizens’ advice, health advice, meals on wheels and there could also be a cafe to act as a meeting place.

“By embracing new technology and becoming a place for education, the library service would remain at the heart of the community.

“We feel that an in-depth public inquiry is needed urgently with all interested parties attending to help safeguard its future.”

Anne McGettigan, a long-time user of Lytham Library, who was a key figure in the gathering of more than 4,000 signatures on a petition against the closure, said: “It’s just heartbreaking and it will leave such a gap in the town if it gone for good.

“My children and grandchildren have followed me in using it extensively and I just feel so sorry for the staff, who have been so wonderful over the years.

“My nine-year-old granddaughter Cara helped gather signatures for the petition and she thought that would be enough to save it. She was really upset when she heard it is closing.

“It just won’t be the same having to go to St Annes to use the library.

“But there is hope that it might be able to continue as a community library and we are still busy gathering names of volunteers to try and make that happen.”

Brian Willis, chairman of the Friends of Freckleton Library, said: “It’s a major loss to the village and I just feel so sorry for the people who use it on a regular basis. I can’t believe Fylde is losing as many libraries as it is compared to other areas of the county but it was clearly a political decision.”

It took less than two hours for Lancashire County Council’s cabinet to sign the final execution papers for Lytham, Freckleton and a host of other Lancashire libraries and children’s centres this week – despite being forced to think again.

An 11th hour attempt to make the cabinet reconsider its cost-cutting closures decision, first taken on September 8, failed to convince the ruling Labour group to change its mind.

Monday’s hastily-convened cabinet meeting followed a ‘call in’ last Thursday by the council’s scrutiny committee.

There were detailed reports from officers on both the council’s financial plight – a funding gap of £148m is predicted by 2020/21 – and how services and buildings had been assessed for closure, before the cabinet rubber stamped its original plans.

Council leader Coun Jennifer Mein said: “I don’t think there can be any doubt at all we are in need of making these cuts.”

She said they were also needed “sooner rather than later” for the sake of those “lining up to take buildings and wondering what the delays are all about” but also for hard-working council staff ”who don’t at the moment know what their future is”.

Fylde councillor Richard Redcliffe, honorary chairman of the Friends of Ansdell Library, who have submitted a bid to run the village library as a community facility, spoke at the county council scrutiny committee meeting which referred the libraries decision back to cabinet.

He said: “What a tragedy that decision makers have refused to listen. I spoke as an expert witness at the LCC Scrutiny Committee, where I suggested that the draconian measures involving mass closures of libraries were unnecessary and unfair and that there were alternative ways of reducing public expenditure currently being delivered by other local authorities.

“‘Consultation’ appears to have had minimal effect on LCC’s plans and indeed it took less than two hours to ignore the ‘think again’ message from their own Scrutiny Committee.

“Both consultation and methodology procedures needed to be seriously examined but efforts to achieve this have sadly failed and the only hope now for our libraries is a possible intervention by the Ministry of Culture, Media and Sport.

“In responding to the challenge of reducing public expenditure some painful surgery was anticipated but ripping the hearts out of our local communities is a step too far.”

The registration service, which is also closing at Lytham as part of the cuts, is being transferred to St Annes Library from Monday.