Cost cutting measures could see libraries in Langney, Willingdon, Polegate and Pevensey Bay close for good – a move being slammed by Liberal Democrats.
East Sussex County Council, which is under Conservative control, is to explore the proposals, which they say would save the authority £653,000. A total of seven libraries across the county are earmarked for closure.
The authority says the number of people using libraries in the county has fallen by 40 percent in the past decade, with more people opting to using services online. They also believe that the majority of patrons wouldn’t be affected by closures and those that would be, would be within a 20-minute drive to another library.
The council is also considering no longer running its mobile library service, instead providing additional support to those who are 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 proposal to close seven library buildings – Langney, Mayfield, Ore, Pevensey Bay, Polegate, Ringmer and Willingdon – is based on an extensive review of library services.
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.
Nick 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 don’t currently use the service will be encouraged to comment in the consultation, which would run for 12 weeks from September to December.
However, the proposals are not being welcomed by Eastbourne and Willingdon MP Stephen Lloyd, who has criticised the plans saying, "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.
"I am quite sure the local communities in both of the affected areas around the Langney Shopping Centre and in Willingdon will be horrified at this decision. I am determined to fight it and hope they'll join me in opposing these closures."
Leader of the Liberal Democrats at County Hall, David Tutt, who is also leader of Eastbourne Borough Council would like so to see the power to run libraries devolved to Town Hall. Also opposed to the closure of any library services within Eastbourne, Councillor Tutt said, “Pure closure of library services on behalf of the County Council is short sighted. They should be working with Borough and District Councils to see how those services could be continued to be operated, possibly more effectively by the second tier of local government.”
The Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Polegate, also says she is appalled at proposals to close the libraries in Ringmer and Polegate saying, "The Conservative cuts threaten our much-loved library services across the county. This is austerity going too far.
"The Conservatives are already making swingeing cuts to health and social care services, as well as brutal cuts to schools across the county.
"We are seeing our public services being dissembled under the Conservatives at local and national levels and more must be done to challenge this."