Permanently closing several libraries in Eastbourne would be a ‘dreadful decision’, according to the town’s MP.
East Sussex County Council’s cabinet will be asked to approve a consultation on the library service’s strategic commissioning strategy – which includes shutting seven of 24 libraries – when it meets on Tuesday, September 19.
The seven locations earmarked for closure are Langney, Pevensey Bay, Willingdon, Polegate, Ore, Mayfield, and Ringmer.
According to the council the proposals are aimed at targeting ‘increasingly limited resources to areas where they will have the greatest impact on improving residents’ lives’, as the number of people using East Sussex libraries has fallen by 40 per cent in the last decade.
However the libraries could still remain open, if they can be funded wholly by communities or other organisations, or taken over by groups to run as alternative community facilities.
Eastbourne’s Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd said: “This is a dreadful decision by the county council. Our local libraries, in Langney and Willingdon, are not only much loved they perform a vital role in the community.
“The decision by County Hall is just plain wrong and I will be writing to the leader of the council, Cllr Keith Glazier, urging he and his Conservative colleagues re-consider.”
Mr Lloyd added: “I remember fighting a similar battle with County Hall almost 15 years ago before I became the MP, over their closure of Old Town Library.
“They got it wrong then - as is proved by the success of the library, now run as a community venture, on which I have the privilege of being its chairman - and it seems they’ve learnt nothing in the intervening years.”
The proposals could save the council £653,000 due to a reduction in library buildings, frontline staff, management savings, income generation by co-locating services, and a further reduction in stock fund.
Readers have already taken to the Herald’s Facebook page to criticise the proposals, with several highlighting the extra travel times, and the importance of encouraging children to read.
One reader said: “A lot of elderly people in Langney, Willingdon, Polegate and Pevensey Bay rely on their local libraries. They’re all in locations too where families can pop in after school.”
Others called the prospect of library closures ‘awful’, a ‘real shame’, and an ‘absolute joke’.
The new library service’s strategic commissioning strategy’s key elements are: an improved elibrary service, a new children and young people’s offer to improve literacy, and a focus on outreach for communities and individuals with the greatest needs.
Meanwhile an officers’ report claims 100 per cent of library members at the seven locations due to be closed live within a 20 minute journey time by car to the other 17 libraries, and more than 96 per cent live within a 30 minute journey time by public transport.
It explains that the running costs for Langney are ‘relatively high’ because it is in a commercial unit within a shopping centre.
As well as retained library facilities at Hampden Park and Eastbourne, an outreach service for children and families is proposed in the Shinewater Children’s Centre.
The mobile library service, which as more than 2,900 members of which 1,100 have used it in the last 12 months, could also be axed, with additional support provided instead to those unable to travel to a library through the Home Library Service.
Meanwhile, a new community library card would be available, allowing the borrowing of a large number of books which could be made available to the community in venues such as village halls or community centres.
Nick Skelton, the county council’s assistant director for communities, said: “The need for significant savings, due to cuts in funding from central government, has left us with no option but to review how our library service is delivered.
“It is vital we focus our resources where they will make the biggest difference, through services which help children to learn to read and write and adults to find jobs and learn digital skills.”
He added: “The proposal to close libraries and no longer run the mobile library is not one that we make lightly.
“With reductions in funding and changes to how the service is being used, we feel this is the best way to ensure we continue to offer a comprehensive service across the whole county and play our part in improving the lives of our residents.”
The proposed network of 17 libraries would focus on areas of higher need, while reflecting the decline in demand for library visits and loans, but would continue to provide a comprehensive, accessible library service.
Mr Skelton said: “While the county’s libraries remain popular, there are far fewer visits today than there were a decade ago, while at the same time the use of elibrary has increased.
“These proposals would allow us to expand the services and materials available online.”
Should cabinet approve a consultation into the proposals library users and those who do not currently use the service will be encouraged to comment in the consultation, which would run for 12 weeks from September to December.
What do you think of plans? Email the newsdesk.