Group withdraws offer to run Hullbridge Library, as campaigners say community libraries are ‘closures by stealth’

A COMMUNITY group in Hullbridge has become the latest to rescind its offer to run a community library.

Friends of Hullbridge Library is one of several groups which offered to take over the running of its local library after Essex Council threatened to close it down.

Last year, Essex Council unveiled plans to close up to 44 libraries unless groups offered to step in and run them on a voluntary basis.

Under the proposal Hullbridge Library would have been cut off completely by Essex Council. It was one of 25 libraries graded as ‘Tier 4’, meaning the council believed it was ‘not required’ and it would not even offer assistance to any community group which took it over.

A further 19 graded as ‘Tier 3’, meaning the council would offer support to community groups which offered to take them over, but would not take overall responsibility for running them anymore.

The proposal provoked outcry, with more than 20,000 people responding to a public consultation and around 60,000 signing petitions. Meanwhile, 80 offers were received to take over the threatened libraries, many of them from community groups.

In July, the council announced that no libraries would close in the next five years as a result of the protests.

But campaigners said that when details emerged as to how the council planned to keep them open, they revealed the council was in fact still closing by libraries, just ‘by stealth’.

An official report said the council’s ‘preference’ would be for a number of libraries to be run by volunteers from ‘community premises’, receiving a ‘one-off donation of books’ and £18,000 funding over three years.

Campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) said this meant that in practice, library buildings would be lost, trained staff would be sacked and vital services currently offered would not be able to continue.

It accused County Hall of ‘putting a gun to people’s heads and demanding they run their local library, or their library would close’, then using community groups’ agreement as a justification for cuts.

So SOLE urged community groups to withdraw their offers.

Tony Pennock, secretary of Friends of Hullbridge Library, has now written to County Hall, saying: “Having discussed this in committee and with our members, I reconfirmed that we had absolutely no desire or intention of supporting the development of a community library in Hullbridge… We believe that the only effective way to provide local library provision is via the Essex Library Service, with properly trained staff and appropriate resources in the existing library.”

Other groups to withdraw their offers are based in Coggeshall and Harlow.

Tracey Vickers, from the Save Coggeshall Libraries Group, said last month that community groups’ offers to take over libraries as a last resort had been ‘misrepresented and used as evidence that communities support Essex County Council’s proposals’.

Charles Thomson

Chief ReporterEmail: [email protected]