The future of libraries across East Sussex is now in our hands.
The Cabinet of the County Council has agreed to go to consultation over the future of seven libraries across the county, including Polegate, Pevensey Bay, Willingdon and Langney. Should the closures go ahead, it would save County Hall £653,000.
Several opposition councillors called on the Conservative-led authority not to go ahead with the consultation, but to look again at the entire proposition. Liberal Democrat Langney County Councillor, Alan Shuttleworth said that he believes libraries are integral to children’s education and the wider community and believes that County Hall should be focusing more on attracting more people to use libraries, rather than closing them down.
Meanwhile, Independent Liberal County Councillor for Willingdon, Stephen Shing, said that there is no need to close both Willingdon and Polegate libraries, saying that the closure of one, would suffice to cover the cost of keeping the other open. He also called on County Hall to recognise with Willingdon Community School currently consulting for expansion, Polegate Primary School getting larger and hundreds of new homes being built around Polegate and Stone Cross, there will be an increased need for libraries in those areas. Councillor Shing read out a letter from a 4-year-old child he had received, which pleaded with those in charge, not to close their library, as they are ‘just starting to read and am loving it’.
Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Hampden Park, Colin Swansborough raised his fear that a decision has already been made, regardless of what any consultation may say and that County Hall will railroad through closures. Councillor Swansborough was reprimanded for his comments by the Chairman and Leader of the Council, Keith Glazier (Conservative), who insists that the authority does not have a pre-determined agenda on the future of libraries.
Other points raised against the proposals included the inconvenience and inability for some people to travel further afield to other libraries, children’s safety in said travelling and a lack of other options put forward within the consultation.
Over the past week, County Hall has come under fire, not only from fellow County Councillors, opposed to the move, which the administration insists is modernising the library service they offer, but also from the MPs for Eastbourne and Willingdon, Polegate and Pevensey Bay, who have all asked the authority to think again as to whether closures are necessary.
The Friends of Pevensey Bay Library has described this morning’s (19 September) meeting as ‘very depressing’. A spokesperson said, “The majority party talked about the poor service offered by the mobile library, they assumed opposition to the proposal was from anti-modernisers and they stressed the need for a modern library service to be delivered by central libraries because outlying libraries could not provide the range of facilities. They did not address the significant points made by other councillors that the proposed consultation does not allow people to comment on strategic options, that outlying libraries are integral to communities, or that the cost of travel and inconvenience getting to central libraries will result in a further fall off of users. Nor did they address the point that the proposed cost to users of getting to the central library will be about the same as buying a book or that many people on low incomes outside those areas recognised as 'deprived' will be excluded from the service unless they can afford their own access to the internet.
“The 40% reduction in library use over the last ten years is seen as proof that the current library footprint is not needed rather than an opportunity for branches to develop the service in a different, modern more valuable way within the community. On the basis of what I heard it is hard to believe that East Sussex County Council is a fit custodian of library services, but of course their consultation document does not raise opportunity for residents to comment on alternative service providers.
“I do hope that people who care about keeping the library make sure they can attend the meeting that our MP, Huw Merriman has arranged on Monday 25 September at 7pm at Priory Court Hotel.”
Eastbourne Buzz has requested an interview with Councillor Bill Bentley on the consultation, which will run until December and is awaiting confirmation as to when this will go ahead.