Three Hyndburn communities are rallying in a bid to save their beloved libraries after they were named on a hitlist set for closure.
Libraries in Clayton-le-Moors, Oswaldtwistle and Rishton, as well as five children and young people’s centres, are among community buildings facing the axe within 12 months as part of Lancashire County Council (LCC) cuts.
The closures, which will now be put to a 12-week consultation, have been slammed as “unjustified”.
In total 106 buildings have been earmarked for closure county-wide. Accrington and Great Harwood libraries have been given a reprieve, having been originally marked for closure in the LCC budget last November.
Teacher Emma Clark started a petition opposing the closure of Rishton library, which now has more than 250 signatures.
She said: “Since I started the petition it’s just been gaining momentum. We can’t allow this to happen. The library is the heart of our community.
“We have an opportunity to try and save the library but also to re-evaluate the ways the users engage with the library. It’s incredible how passionately people in Rishton feel about their library, it’s a testament to how much it matters.”
In Clayton-le-Moors non-profit social enterprise group Mercer House 1842 has begun talks to try and secure their library’s future.
Director Nick Collingridge said: “Everybody’s up in arms. The libraries have always been part of the community, to take them away and say you can go down to Accrington - that will never happen. People won’t be able to get there.
“We are talking to the councils about the possibility of a group of volunteers taking over the library. It’s in the very early stages but it’s a tentative proposal.”
A meeting has been arranged at the Civic Arts Centre next Wednesday, May 18 at 7.15pm to discuss the plight of Oswaldtwistle Library.
St Andrews ward councillor Peter Britcliffe said the closure of the library, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, would hit the community hard.
He said: “It’s very bad news and I think before they go down the route of closure we need to examine any other ways of working through community groups to keep these buildings open. I am encouraging community groups to come forward and see how they could actually run the library - I do know that there is an interested party in the library which gives me some hope that it will continue.
“These buildings are part of the fabric of our area and we need to work together to secure their future.”
Outgoing Mayor Marlene Haworth, who led the ceremony for the centenary, said: “I can’t believe that we are taking these away from future generations who will never know the joy of being able to go into a library and pick up a book.”
Hard copies of the Rishton Library petition are being made available at Stott’s bakers and Duckworths Butchers.
Christine Hammerton, of the Knit and Natter group, said: “It’s not just a library it’s more like a community area, so much goes on there. It’s the final facility in Rishton, there is nothing else there for people as a truly public space.”
County council bosses have said that new ‘neighbourhood centres’ will provide a base for a range of different services in one place, making many buildings redundant.
But Hyndburn’s Conservative leader Coun Tony Dobson said the closures would hit communities.
He said: “There seems to be disproportionate closures in certain parts of the borough. I don’t think these closures are justified.”
Hyndburn council leader Miles Parkinson said no-one wants to lose the public buildings.
He said: “Rishton, Clayton and Oswaldtwistle are known focal points to everyone. As a district council we will be working with the county council with proposals coming forward from organisations with the aspiration of keeping the buildings. Some of those buildings are obsolete but some of those buildings are very prominent and perform multi-functional uses.”
Lancashire County Council leader Jenny Mein said they are under increasing pressure from the Government to make difficult cost-saving decisions.
Coun Mein said: “I’m acutely aware that people have a very strong connection to their local services, particularly places like libraries which are often seen as a valuable part of the community.
“These proposals are very difficult ones for councillors to have to consider, but our aim is to come up with a solution that still gives everyone in Lancashire good access to good services, even though some will have to be further away than they are now.
“Our reduced need for buildings also reflects that we’ve already had to significantly reduce the budget for many services.”
Coun Mein added: “The severity of the county council’s financial position cannot be overstated, and the ongoing cuts in central government funding combined with rising demand for our services mean the only way we can maintain the services that people rely on is to deliver them in a different way.”
Buildings at risk:
- Clayton-le-Moors, Rishton and Oswaldtwistle libraries
- The Blake Street home of Accrington Youth Offending Team
- Clayton-le-Moors Young People’s Centre on Moor Street
- Great Harwood Young People’s Centre on Lowerfold Road
- Huncoat Children’s Centre on Lynwood Road
- Oswaldtwistle Young People’s Centre on Harvey Street
- Accrington South Children’s Centre, based on Norfolk Grove, Church
Anger at timing of announcement
The delaying of the library closures announcement until after last week’s local elections has come under fire.
Opponents of Labour county council chiefs have hit out at the timing of the decision which came just hours after the election.
However, the council which first unveiled plans to close half of its libraries last November, said they were prevented from disclosing the proposals by election ‘purdah’ rules.
Coun Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council Conservative group, said: “The report was withheld from voters who deserved to know the facts before they cast their vote.
“I think it would have had an impact on the election if people had known that the Labour Party were going to shut their libraries in a year.”
County council chiefs first revealed proposals to close half of the county’s libraries in November 2015, citing the need to save £262 million by 2020.
However, in a statement, a spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: “This report was published as part of the agenda for this week’s Cabinet meeting and could not be published any earlier in advance because of the ‘purdah’ period, which prevents local authorities from publicising controversial issues during the period leading up to elections.
“The same restrictions would have prevented us from consulting the public, so by bringing the report to this meeting we will now be able to begin a public consultation process at the earliest opportunity.
“Following the Cabinet meeting we intend to begin an extensive consultation process over a 12-week period, which will give people an opportunity to learn about the plans and contribute their views to shaping a final set of proposals.”