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Campaigners wary over apparent U-turn over libraries in Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 17:07 06 May 2011

Protest group Lowestoft Coalition Against the Cuts holding a protest at MP Peter Aldous' surgery at Oulton Broad Library. Cate Clarke leading the protest.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Protest group Lowestoft Coalition Against the Cuts holding a protest at MP Peter Aldous' surgery at Oulton Broad Library. Cate Clarke leading the protest.; PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2011

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save Waveney's closure-threatened libraries vowed to battle on this week after the county council threw them a lifeline by announcing all branches "will remain open".

Plans by the authority to save millions of pounds have put 29 libraries at risk of closure – including those at Bungay, Kessingland, Oulton Broad, Southwold – unless new groups step forward to run them.

But this week it performed a dramatic u-turn, saying it was changing its approach in the face of a public outcry which has seen a series of protests and petitions and criticism from leading authors.

Campaigners welcomed the “marvellous” news – but remained wary about the council’s long-term plans.

The Journal understands that, under the new approach, the county council plans to retain ultimate responsibility for running libraries, while giving communities an opportunity to help run individual branches.

While there is no guarantee that all branches will be retained, Judy Terry, Suffolk’s cabinet member with responsibility for libraries,says she expects the overwhelming majority to stay open.

The libraries look likely to be run by a community interest company that would be fully owned by the county council but would include representatives from the public as well as councillors and officials.

Campaigners in Waveney who have been battling to save their libraries remained cautious about the move.

At Kessingland, where the relatively new library within the Marram Green complex is due to be officially opened by Princess Anne next month<June>,Jennifer Thurston said: “I am a little suspicious of it.”

She added: “The timing, so close to the election, seems convenient and I don’t know if Princess Anne’s visit has had any bearing on the decision. I think we need to wait and see what happens.”

At Oulton Broad, author Louis Barfe, who regularly uses the library in Bridge Road, said: “It’s marvellous news, but I don’t think it’s the end of the story. It feels like a temporary expedient.

“I don’t think we can simply sit back and think to ourselves ‘we’ve won’, but it is a fantastic example of what happens when good people stand up and say they won’t be pushed around.

Mr Barfe, whose daughter attends Oulton Broad’s baby reading group, added: “Libraries are an amenity... Their value cannot be measured in financial terms. It’s not about profits; it is what they give to the local community. I think this is a case of cutting something else because libraries are just too important.”

Carlton Colville mum Charlotte Thornton, who set up a petition and organised a demonstration with other mothers who take their children to the Oultoin Broad library, was more hopeful.

“I am absolutely delighted about this,” she said. “This library is used by a lot of mothers and their toddlers and plays a important role in educating children. I will try and make sure Judy Terry stands by her words.”

In Southwold, where the town council had been in talks with neighbouring parishes about taking over their library, councillor John Miller said: “This is very welcome news, but we do not yet know precisely what it means.”

The council’s apparent U-turn follows the end, on Saturday, of a three-month review of its library proposals.

The council had asked people for their views on its plan to divest 29 of its 44 libraries under moves to cut millions of pounds from its book budget. It currently costs almost £2.4m a year to run the threatened branches.

Announcing the new approach, Mrs Terry said: “I really hope that all libraries will remain open; ultimately, we would like to be able to see new libraries created for communities across the county.”

“The review of library services has shown how much they are valued... but it has also shown different communities want different things from their libraries, and this should allow them to develop in different ways.”

Mrs Terry emphasised that the proposals that were being drawn up by the council for the future of the library service could not become official policy until they had been approved by the new cabinet.

The new approach follows the election of Beccles councillor Mark Bee as the new leaderof the county council’s ruling Conservative group following the decision of current leader, Jeremy Pembroke, to step down.

Mr Bee has already pledged to do what he can to save Suffolk’s threatened school crossing patrols.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous said the communities facing library closures hard worked hard to save them and that the county council should work closely with them and move forward on keeping libraries open.

He said: “I think there are compelling reasons for all of the libraries in my constituency to remain open.”

•School transport u-turn – page 50

Lifeline for Waveney’s library cautiously welcomed

Suffolk County Council had planned to divest the service, handing over responsibility for running libraries to community groups, parish councils or other organisations.

Its proposals, part of proposed multi-million-pound savings, could have resulted in the closure of 29 branches if no groups stepped forward to take over the libraries– including those at Kessingland, Oulton Broad, Southwold.

However, because of the strength of feeling across the county – which has manifested itself in demonstrations and petitions being compiled in towns and villages – the council appears to have made a dramatic about-turn.

The Journal understands that the authority instead plans to retain ultimate responsibility for running libraries, while giving communities an opportunity to help run individual branches.

While there is no guarantee that all branches will be retained, Suffolk’s cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, Judy Terry, says she expects the overwhelming majority to stay open. The libraries look set to be run by a community interest company that would be fully owned by the county council but would include representatives of communities as well as councillors and officials.

Campaigners who have been battling to keep their libraries open tentatively welcomed the apparent victory of people-power over the proposed council budget cuts.

At Kessingland, where the relatively new library within the Marram Green complex is due to be officially opened by Princess Anne next month , book lovers remain cautious.

“I am a little suspicious of it,” said Mrs Thurston, who described the library as the “hub of the village”.

“The timing, so close to the election, seems convenient and I don’t know if Princess Anne’s visit has had any bearing on the decision. I think we need to wait and see what happens.”

At Oulton Broad, Louis Barfe, another passionate supporter of local libraries, said: “It’s marvellous news, but I don’t think it’s the end of the story.

“It feels like a temporary expedient. I don’t think we can simply sit back and think ‘we’ve won’, but it is a fantastic example of what happens when good people stand up and say they won’t be pushed around.

“Libraries are an amenity,” added Mr Barfe, whose daughter attends Oulton Broad’s baby reading group.

“Their value cannot be measured in financial terms. It’s not about profits; it is what they give to the local community. I think this is a case of cutting something else because libraries are just too important.”

Carlton Colville mum Charlotte Thornton, who set up a petition and organised a demonstration with other mothers who take their children to the Bridge Road library, was more hopeful.

“I am absolutely delighted about this,” she said.

“This library is used by a lot of mothers and their toddlers and plays a important role in educating children. I will try and make sure Judy Terry stands by her words.”

In Southwold, where the town council had been in talks with neighbouring parishes about taking over their library, councillor John Miller said: “This is very welcome news, but we do not know precisely what it means.”

The apparent U-turn follows the end of three months of consultation on Saturday.

The authority asked residents for their views on the scheme to divest the council of 29 of its 44 libraries.

It costs Suffolk almost £2.4m a year to run the threatened libraries.

Mrs Terry said: “I really hope that all libraries will remain open; ultimately, we would like to be able to see new libraries created for communities across the county.”

“The review of library services has shown how much they are valued by their communities, but it has also shown that different communities want different things from their libraries, and this should allow them to develop in different ways.”

“When you look at how vocal people have been in places like Stradbroke, you realise how valuable their libraries are to them.”

Mrs Terry emphasised that the proposals that were being drawn up by the council for the future of the library service could not become official policy until they had been approved by the new cabinet.

Peter Aldous MP for Waveney said the communities facing library closures hard worked hard to save them and that the county council should work closely with them and move forward on keeping libraries open.

He said: “I think there are compelling reasons for all of the libraries in my constituency to remain open.”

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