Battle lines are being drawn as Fylde reels from the prospect of sweeping changes to its library services.
Angry MP Mark Menzies is pressing for central Government intervention after Lancashire County Council earmarked Lytham, Ansdell, Freckleton and Kirkham libraries for closure in their current form.
A library service in Kirkham would be retained close by.
Under the recommendations – which go before the County Hall Cabinet next Thursday, September 8 – more than 100 buildings would no longer be used for county council services and the number of places at which some services are available would drastically reduce as the county council aims to save £200m by 2020.
In Fylde, only St Annes Library would remain as it is, although the hope in Kirkham is that the service to be switched to nearby Milbanke House would be at least as good as that at present.
The Cabinet will also be asked to agree to explore proposals made by a number of groups to take on responsibility for running some of the affected buildings and services.
These include the Friends of Ansdell Library, who have ‘reluctantly’ submitted a business case for a community library in the event that they lose their fight to keep the village library open, and a cartel of parish and town councils in rural Fylde, who are keen to run a range of services from the Kirkham library building.
Campaigners in Lytham and Freckleton have also expressed their shock, with an appeal in Lytham, where more than 4,000 people signed a petition to keep the library open, for potential volunteers to help run a library services if the opportunity arises.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “I am furious at this decision. I said when Lancashire County Council first announced its proposals that it looked like Fylde would be hit hardest and it appears that will now be the case.
“I, and thousands of other local people, put forward some very strong arguments against these closures and I had hoped that the council would at least meet us halfway.
“However, the consultation process appears to have been merely a token gesture. It has raised more questions than answers about the future for services in Lancashire.
“The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Karen Bradley MP) has assured me the department will look closely at the council’s proposal and I shall be calling for her to undertake a rigorous review. I will also be urging the county council to work with local groups in a bid to save as many of our libraries as possible.”
Louise McLaren, chairman of the Friends of Ansdell Library, said: “Our priority is still that we keep fighting to keep the library open as we believe it is the right choice for people on the Fylde.
“However, if we did nothing we are at risk of being left with an empty building with the heart ripped out of our community, which would have a negative impact for residents and local businesses alike.
“Therefore, we have reluctantly submitted a business case for a community library in the event that we lose our fight to keep Ansdell Library open. It is far from what we want, as we know the importance of professional library staff for an effective library service. However, we feel we have been left with no choice in the matter if we to save some form of library and community centre for Ansdell.”
A package of help is proposed to help establish any community-run library, including £5,000 to cover set-up costs, shelving, an initial supply of books from the county’s store, and advice from a dedicated community library development officer.
It is understood there has been another expression of interest regarding Ansdell, two each for Lytham and Kirkham libraries and one for Freckleton Library, although the County Council did not confirm who they were from.
Anne McGettigan, a leading campaigner to keep Lytham Library open, said: “Lytham Library is essential to the community and it is important that we do everything we can to keep a library service here. Expecting people to go to St Annes, especially the older library users, is asking too much.”
Marjorie Whitehead, a member of Freckleton Parish Council as well as the Friends of Ansdell Library, said that the Parish Council had looked into the possibility of taking over the village library but that it was not financially viable.
“We are devastated that we could lose our library,” said Coun Whitehead, “It is used by so many organisations that it will leave a massive gap.”
It’s a much brighter picture in Kirkham, where County Coun Liz Oades, said: “I have been negotiating on behalf of Kirkham for some time and the hope is that the library service at Milbanke House would be at least as good as that at present – possibly even better, with the installation of a few more computers.”
Along with the libraries, other Fylde centres earmarked for being sold off are: Kirkham Young People’s Centre, Lower Lane Young People’s Centre, Lytham Children’s Centre, Orchard Children’s Centre (Freckleton) (designated) and Pear Tree Children’s Centre (Kirkham) (designated) and County Coun David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council and portfolio holder for finance, said: “We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to respond to the consultation - their feedback has been invaluable in helping to shape the final proposals.
“Our aim is to find a solution that still gives everyone in Lancashire good access to good services, despite the pressures on the council’s budget. We have done a lot of work to assess where services should be located in future, taking account of things such as geographic spread, accessibility and the needs of different communities. Some of the changes to the proposals reflect what people have told us about the way they access these services.
“We’re also keen to continue exploring the potential for other groups and organisations to take on responsibility for some of the affected buildings and services The report acknowledges more work will be needed to assess the business cases put forward.”