County Council chiefs are being urged to think again as four of Fylde’s five libraries face the threat of closure in their current form.
Lytham, Ansdell and Freckleton libraries have all been earmarked to be lost altogether, along with Lytham’s registration office, while Kirkham’s library facility in Station Road would be closed and transferred to nearby Milbanke, currently a County Council-run a residential care home which it is proposed to be remodelled as a neighbourhood centre.
The shock haul for Fylde comes amid County Council proposals to close more than 100 buildings as it attempts to save £200m by 2020/21.
Under the proposals, the number of libraries at fixed locations would reduce from 73 to 44, with 37 offering a fully-staffed service, and seven being “satellite” libraries, where people can use self-service counters.
Subject to cabinet approval, a 12-week consultation is due to begin on Wednesday, May 18. A final decision will be made later this year.
In Lytham, Ansdell and Freckleton, petitions to save the libraries have already gathered thousands of signatures, while Kirkham Town Council is aiming to get together with parish councils around rural Fylde to present a ‘united front’ during the consultation period.
Kirkham county councillor Liz Oades, who also serves on Fylde and Kirkham Town councils, said she had been told by County Hall officials that a switch of library service from the current building to Milbanke would not result in any reduction in service.
“But the devil is in the detail and we don’t have any detail yet,” she said.
“In theory it might work well to have all services at one point and we want to be as positive as possible about this, but it is vital that we retain the best services possible for the whole of rural Fylde, and at Kirkham we feel it is important for the whole of rural Fylde to present a united front.”
In Lytham, a petition initiated by long-time library user Anne McGettigan, members of her family and friends, has been signed by more than 2,000 people at a variety of locations around town - including St Peter’s primary School, as suggested by Anne’s eight-year-old grandaughter Car Restrick - since it was first suggested some weeks ago that two of Lytham St Annes’ three libraries might be in danger of being closed under the County Council budget cuts.
“It was always a possibility but there is no Friends organisation at Lytham library and while the Friends of Ansdell, St Annes and Freckleton libraries have been very active recently and it was relatively quiet at Lytham, I think a lot of people thought Lytham library would be safe,” said Anne.
“But we thought it was important to make the point how much Lytham library means to the town now and to future generations and the response from the public has been marvellous.
“Now it is vital that we keep the momentum going and do everything to can to keep our wonderful library open. It can’t be allowed to close.”
Louise McLaren, chairman of the Friends of Ansdell Library, said: “We are obviously hugely disappointed that Ansdell Library is one of the buildings that has been identified for closure,
“The LCC report claims that ‘95 per cent of those who live in more densely populated areas would be within two miles of their nearest library service’ but the closure of Ansdell and Lytham, as well as Freckleton, libraries will mean this will not simply not the case for many residents on the Fylde.
“We know that many councils across the country have been affected by budget cuts but the proposed devastation to the library service in Lancashire is unprecedented.
“We are determined to do whatever we can to keep the library open. We really want to engage with LCC to look at options for our library. We hope that the consultation period is a genuine opportunity to look at innovative ways to preserve the library service and maintain the building that is truly the hub of community activity in Ansdell.
“We have collected close to 2,000 signatures and campaign events such as our ‘Read In’, ‘Big Book Walk’ and the Public Meeting have drawn hundreds of people together, demonstrating that the library is genuinely a vital part of our community across all age groups.
“I am extremely grateful to all those who have supported us so far and the enthusiasm for the campaign from local people demonstrates how passionately people feel about their library.
“We urge everyone to write to the councillors at LCC to express their feelings about the library closures.
“We have a once in a lifetime chance to try and save our libraries because once they are closed they will never re-open. We cannot let this happen.”
Brian Willis, chairman of the Friends of Freckleton Library, said he was angry about the proposals.
He said: “We just feel this decision is a bad one, certainly for the community of Freckleton.
“This library is used by lots of different people, including the old and vulnerable.
“We are very upset.”
He said there was a ‘very large’ petition due to be given to Lancashire County Council against the decision, and said MP Mark Menzies also planned to present it in Parliament.
“All we can do is try to change their minds,” added Mr Willis.
Under the County Council proposals, St Annes is the only Fylde library not on the list for closure in its current form.
Annette Ford, chairman of the Friends of St Annes Library, said: “I just feel so sad for the users of the other four libraries in Fylde and of course with a consultation period still to come and a final decision to be made later this year, none of us are absolutely safe.
“We have offered all the help we can to support the other libraries in Fylde and we wish them every success in the campaign to avoid closure.”
In a statement, County Coun Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “The severity of the county council’s financial position cannot be overstated, and the ongoing cuts in central government funding combined with rising demand for our services mean the only way we can maintain the services that people rely on is to deliver them in a different way.
“I’m acutely aware that people have a very strong connection to their local services, particularly places like libraries which are often seen as a valuable part of the community.
“These proposals are very difficult ones for councillors to have to consider, but our aim is to come up with a solution that still gives everyone in Lancashire good access to good services, even though some will have to be further away than they are now.”