Public support lends libraries a new lifeline

Andrew  Jones: Councils announcement marks huge leap forward in residents' campaign.
Andrew Jones: Councils announcement marks huge leap forward in residents' campaign.
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EVERY library in North Yorkshire is set to be spared the axe following a huge groundswell of public support.

The Yorkshire Post can reveal that all 22 libraries originally earmarked for closure by North Yorkshire County Council to counter £69m in cutbacks, are now almost certain to be kept open.

The local authority had already scaled back its original plans following a public outcry, reducing the number of libraries it was pulling all funding from to eight, with 14 more having their budgets slashed by 30 per cent.

Now community groups have submitted bids to keep open all the libraries set for closure, while helping to extend opening hours elsewhere.

Coun Chris Metcalfe, executive member for the library service, said: “I am absolutely delighted at the way community groups have stepped up to the plate, and very proud. There is a real strong possibility here that no libraries will be closed next year.

“We have received some really positive proposals from community groups that are really robust and in a lot of cases very ambitious.

“People are telling us they will deliver a more extensive range of services to make them more accessible for local communities.

“Libraries are at the heart of the community and this consultation has shown us the real depth of feeling there is for them.”

Groups in the eight “category three” libraries, where all funding is to be removed, Hunmanby, Barlby, Bilton and East Ayton as well as Embsay, Gargrave, Great Ayton and Masham, have all now submitted business plans before an October 31 deadline set by the local authority.

Volunteers at Hunmanby, near Filey, hope to transform the library into a community hub including adult education and health services as well.

Bids to work with the county council to extend opening hours in the other 14 “category two” libraries, have also flooded in.

Andrew Jones, the Conservative MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said: “This is welcome news and comes after long and determined campaigns by local residents and councillors to keep the libraries open.

“I have been pleased to lend my support to those campaigns and it looks like the community has risen to the challenge to save the libraries. While the future is not yet certain, the county council’s announcement marks a huge leap forward in the campaign.”

The business plans will now be considered by the care and independence overview and scrutiny committee on November 16, before going to the county council’s executive on November 22.

It is hoped the volunteer groups which have submitted plans for the eight category three libraries will take over the running of the buildings by March 2012.

North Yorkshire, which is England’s largest rural county, has 42 libraries and for several years has bucked the national trend with visitor numbers and membership going up.

However, last week saw the last-ever delivery runs for 10 of North Yorkshire County Council’s 11 mobile library vans, which for years have carried books out into the most isolated communities.