Essex campaign group seeks reassurances over latest libraries plan

Archive image from the Stansted Library protest showing a group holding banners

Archive: The Stansted Library protest - Credit: Saffron Photo

A campaign group to save libraries is calling on Essex County Council to assure residents plans that "charity shop libraries" have been "quietly shelved" as a new consultation opens.

Essex County Council had originally planned to close 25 of its 74 libraries in 2019.

Libraries in Stansted and Thaxted would have closed, while the hours at Dunmow Library and Saffron Walden Library would have been reduced.

Petitions, cross-party support, and protests outside libraries, backed by celebrities, convinced the authority to change its mind.

The county council has now opened a new consultation into the draft vision for libraries.

It has said it commits to keeping all 74 libraries open, with investment in training and development for library staff. 

The draft plan and survey can be found at https://libraries.essex.gov.uk/everyoneslibrary 

The campaign group Save Our Libraries Essex (SOLE) said they are still concerned about library services being cut back.

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"We are pleased to see no mention whatsoever of so-called 'community libraries' - or more appropriately charity shop libraries.

"It meant staff were to be got rid of, library buildings sold off, and volunteers were expected to both house and run many of our libraries.

"We now call on Councillor McKinley to assure the people of Essex that this particular closure plan by stealth has been quietly shelved.

"We are concerned about plans to increase the use of library space being shared with other services and other organisations.

"It stands to reason that when a library has to give up space, there will be less room for books, less room to study, and less room for computers.

"We have seen from past experience that any cuts to library services - such as cuts to opening hours and the cuts to book stock, which is down by nearly half a million over the last decade - is then used to justify further cuts and even closures down the line. That clearly remains a danger."

SOLE is also calling on the county council to provide paper copies of the strategy and consultation.

The consultation has been welcomed by the Dunmow mayor and county councillors representing Thaxted and Saffron Walden.

ECC Saffron Walden division councillor Paul Gadd said: “R4U councillors were heavily involved in the residents’ campaigns to stop these closures and we are delighted that ECC has reconsidered its plans.”

ECC Thaxted division councillor Martin Foley said: “The proposed closure of Thaxted library would have been particularly heavily felt here, and so I welcome ECC’s new draft library plan.

"We haven’t yet had a chance to go through the new plan in detail, but the commitment to retain all our libraries comes as a great relief.”

Great Dunmow's mayor, councillor Patrick Lavelle, said: "The Dunmow library is at the heart of our community, it's located in the town centre and it provides a safe space for people to use computers and to get access to books and other reading materials.

"It's excellent that Essex County Council are reconsidering their strategy for the libraries.

"I hope that we can keep an active and vibrant library in Dunmow open for the benefit of our residents."

Cllr Louise McKinlay, Essex County Council's deputy leader and cabinet member for community, equality, partnerships and performance, said: “The pandemic has made us see things differently, it’s shown us how flexible our libraries can be but has also shown us there is a wealth of opportunity for the service and our library buildings. 

“We don’t want to just rebuild to where we were before the pandemic, we want to go further and create a service that is modern, vibrant and sustainable, with improved access, better facilities and more opportunities for local people.

"The libraries are a key tool in helping us to deliver our Levelling Up agenda, right across Essex. 

“However, before any decisions are made, we want to hear what residents think of the proposals in the draft plan.” 

Essex County Council is looking for feedback before 21 January at 1pm either via the web link, in person at one of the engagement events planned for early next year or via the customer service centre on 0345 603 7633. 

SOLE is holding an online consultation via Facebook and Zoom on Thursday, December 16 from 7.30pm.

The link and details to join by Zoom are:-

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82652249312?pwd=bEUrQkZPdzF4UG9wMTJVeGdmZGdLdz09 

Meeting ID: 826 5224 9312
Passcode: 539164

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