Councillors oppose proposed library closures

Daniel and Stephen Shing speaking out against proposed library closures (Photo submitted).
Daniel and Stephen Shing speaking out against proposed library closures (Photo submitted).

Two independent democrat councillors have opposed proposed library closures in Willingdon and Polegate.

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 Polegate, Ringmer, Mayfield, Langney, Pevensey Bay, Willingdon, and Ore.

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.

Daniel Shing (Ind Dem, Polegate and Watermill) said: “It is sad news for our residents in Polegate, Willingdon and surrounding villages.

“The number of people using libraries in the county has fallen is true, but it might not as high as ESCC reported by 40 per cent in the last 10 years.

“I notice for some time now ESCC have removed the counting device in our library, the usage could be higher if those use the library and do not borrow a book. We have double the proportion here than in Hampden Park.

“It is very strange that Hampden Park library is remaining open, which is closer to Eastbourne town centre library than Polegate.

“Our residents in Stone Cross will have no choice have to use Eastbourne Town Centre Library as both Polegate and Pevensey Bay are going to close.

“I understand the reductions in funding and the need make changes to how county to provide the service, to close three out of seven it seems our area have been targeted the most.”

Stephen Shing (Ind Dem, Willingdon and South Downs) added: “It is effect 100 per cent of our resident members will be without library service in this area as the proposals to close Polegate and Willingdon libraries and mobile libraries.

“The propose closure is not justified in this area and is not fairly proportion, our residents have to travel more than 20 minutes to the nearest library and we have one of the highest elderly population area in Sussex.

“Most important many more large housing deployments are on the way which they will without a local library service.

“We will ask Conservative administration East Sussex County Council to reconsider it again.”

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.

The mobile library service 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, which would save the authority £653,000, 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.

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