Many of Lancashire’s closed-down libraries are set to be re-opened within months.
But when the county council’s cabinet met yesterday opposition councillors demanded to know where the cash will come from to finance the re-openings.
The cabinet gave the green light to a seven point plan to get libraries, including those at Fulwood, Lostock Hall, Freckleton and Whalley back in business.
However a question mark still hangs over the exact future of another dozen libraries, including Bamber Bridge, Adlington, Burscough, Cleveleys and Thornton after councillors agreed to defer a decision on them “to allow time for further consideration.”
A total of 26 libraries were closed last year as part of cost-cutting measures by the council. The new Tory leadership at the County Council had vowed during the recent council election campaign to reopen them and yesterday, to applause from supporters, unveiled their immediate plans.
County Coun Peter Buckley, cabinet member for community and cultural services, warned that significant work would be needed, with a report to councillors spelling out both the financial cost at some £1.7m a year and the need to restock and restaff libraries. In some cases the buildings are completely empty and will need refurnishing.
The libraries were closed by the previous Labour administration which said it was forced to cut costs following multimillion pound cuts in funding from central Government.
Coun Buckley said: “We have inherited a total shambles that we need to untangle and this report is the first stage in trying to sort it all out.”
Council leader County Coun Geoff Driver said: “I think we were all surprised at how bad it was.”
But Labour Councillor Lizzi Collinge asked where the cash was coming from to finance the new libraries programme and what was happening to the dozen libraries which had no re-opening date, asking :”When will we get some real proper detail?”
New county councillor Julia Berry from Chorley asked what would happen to Coppull and Eccleston libraries which are being supported by Chorley council until 2018. Meanwhile Labour County Labour leader Coun Azhar Ali summed up saying: “Please tell us where this money is coming from and what other services are going to be cut?”
Coun Driver replied that when final accounts were submitted the council predicted a £4m surplus on its budget and some of this money would be used to finance the library reopenings. He said: “We will not be savaging the services of the people of Lancashire.”
Coun Buckley had particularly criticised the previous Labour administration for spending nearly a quarter of a million pounds on Bolton le Sands library, only to empty it of books and furniture and shut its doors months later.
But Labour County Coun John Fillis said: “The greatest shame is that a Conservative Government cut millions and millions.”
After the meeting Coun Buckley said: “Libraries are a vital service at the heart of our communities, offering free access to books and information, as well as being a place where communities can get together.
“We’ve agreed to reopen libraries which were closed, as well as safeguarding full library services at six libraries which had been due to close or see the level of service reduced.
“Building surveys are already underway and the next step will be to produce a detailed timeline for libraries reopening. Whilst some require minimal work in order to reopen, at this stage we’re anticipating that most will reopen between November this year and April next year.”
He continued: “A significant amount of activity will be needed to reopen the libraries which were closed. This will include building assessments and carrying out work to improve the condition of some buildings, recruiting and training staff, reconnecting ICT and other infrastructure, and reallocating book stock.”
Tribute was paid to community groups which had rallied to support their local libraries.
• The proposals agreed by the council’s cabinet will see the phased reopening of 14 libraries, nine of which will be run by the county council. These are at Fulwood, (pictured when it went up for sale), Freckleton, Lostock Hall Library and Children’s Centre, Whalley library and Springwood Children’s Centre, Bolton le Sands, Silverdale, Barrowford and Burnley Campus Library and Oswaldtwisle.
Five will be run as independent community libraries, including Penwortham Library and Young People’s Centre and Pike Hill, Trawden and Crawshawbooth libraries. An independent community library has also been set up close to the former Clayton-le-Moors library.
A full service will also be retained at six libraries which were due to close or offer a reduced service. These are Coppull, Eccleston, Ansdell, Brierfield, Bacup and Whitworth libraries.
In Kirkham the library service will continue at existing premises, prior to a move to Milbanke Older People’s Day Service.
The council says further consideration will be given to the following library buildings: Adlington Library and Children’s Centre, Cleveleys Library and Children’s Centre, Bamber Bridge, Burscough, Lytham, Thornton, Briercliffe, Rosegrove, Rishton, Earby, Parbold and Upholland libraries. The report to the cabinet noted that three former libraries cannot be reopened since leases for two buildings - at Chatburn and Read have been surrendered, and the ownership of one building, Northfleet Library in Wyre, has been transferred to a school. The council will now consider options for providing services in the areas affected.
The reopening plan will go the full county council meeting next Thursday for final approval.