'˜The fight for our libraries goes on'

Fylde MP Mark Menzies has pledged that the fight to save Fylde's libraries goes on after Lancashire County Council confirmed the closure of four of the area's five facilities in their current form.

Thursday, 15th September 2016, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 15th September 2016, 4:32 pm
Members of the Lytham Library Working Group, who want to re-open Lytham Library as a community base. From left: Alex OToole (Fable Arts), Christine Stringfellow (Circles of Light), Fylde Coun Ray Thomas

Mr Menzies is continuing to pursue the issue with Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Karen Bradley MP – and has called for the closure decisions to be held back until next year, when Lancashire’s voters are due to go to the polls.

He said: “Lancashire County Council is rushing these plans through, in the hope that local residents will forget about them by the time they cast their vote in county council elections next year.

“This is clearly wrong and I urge LCC to hold fire on all closure decisions until 2017, at the earliest, so that people have the chance to give their verdict on these proposals at the ballot box and come up with a solution to keep these libraries open.

“In the meantime, I will carry on my support of the friends of Fylde’s libraries in any way I can, including lending my backing to applications for Judicial Review, where appropriate.”

County councillors will be asked to reconsider the controversial property closures, approved by Cabinet on September 8.

A cross party group of seven councillors want the decision to close more than 100 buildings, including the libraries in Lytham, Freckleton and Ansdell, “called in” and reviewed.

The Lytham Library Working Group, initiated by the Arts Partnership for Fylde and including representation from the Lytham Heritage Group and the Lytham St Annes Civic Society, have put forward a bid to the county council to set up what it describes as ‘mixed space’ with a community library facility in the current building on the town’s Clifton Street.

The bid - along similar lines to one in Ansdell by the Friends of the library there – comes as Fylde reels at the implications after the County Council’s Cabinet confirmed plans to axe all but one of the area’s five libraries in their present form in a bid to save cash.

St Annes library is the only one to escape the axe in its existing building and is to see work carried out to transform it into what the county council describes as a Neighbourhood Centre.

A similar facility is set for Kirkham in Milbanke House, just across the road from the current library in Station Road – but for Lytham and Ansdell, along with Freckleton, the axe is poised, unless the bids to create community facilities are successful.

As it is, Lytham and Freckleton are set to close as early as September 30, while Ansdell’s doors will remain open for at least some months yet - possibly into next year – until the work is completed at St Annes.

Whether the bids for community libraries at Lytham and Ansdell have been successful or not will not be known until the end of October.

“The whole town is in shock at the prospect of losing its library in such a wonderful historic building - but hopefully the bid we have made can give it a future,” said Alex O’Toole, director of the Arts Partnership for Fylde, speaking on behalf of the Lytham Library Working Group.

“When the Arts Partnership for Fylde learned that Lytham could not only potentially lose its library service, but also the use of the building as a community space altogether, we put a working group together to look at how the both the building could be saved and the library retained.

“The group, which includes representatives from Lytham Heritage Group, Lytham St Annes Civic Society, Lytham-based Fable Arts, interested residents and businesses, as well as County Coun Tim Ashton and Coun Ray Thomas, worked together to establish the best way forward.

“We held a public consultation and the feedback was unstinting and irrefutable - while the public wanted to retain the library and for it to remain in the building it is currently housed in, they also wanted access to a more modern facility which provided a broader, cultural offer.

“Based on the public’s feedback we submitted a proposal to Lancashire County Council to transfer Lytham Library to independent status and redevelop the building as a mixed space facility featuring a community managed self-service library, They will inform us of the outcome of our proposal at the end of October.”

Louise McLaren, chairman of the Friends of Ansdell Library, said of the situation there: “We understand that it will stay open until sometime next year, while building work is undertaken at St Annes library.

“It is extremely disappointing that the views of the people of Ansdell were not given consideration in the decision and that the council reached the conclusion that they did.

“The social isolation, lack of access to IT and removal of the free book service is likely to present much deeper, more challenging problems for LCC in the future and place much-increased demands on other services.

“We are extremely proud of everyone for the response that Ansdell made during the campaign and although we did not get the outcome that we wanted, there has been a significant shift in the position of LCC towards community libraries.

“We will also be submitting a request for an inquiry to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to review the decision.

“We submitted a business case for a community library and hub and if we are successful in our application, we will need the support of the local population more than ever, with it being entirely reliant on volunteers to ensure the smooth running of the operation.”

At Freckleton, however, there is an air of despondency with the village library set to close its doors for good in just over two weeks’ time - and no apparent hope of a new lease of life as a community facility.

Brian Willis, chairman of the Friends of Freckleton Library. said: “There is a just a feeling of inevitability about the whole situation and it is so sad.

“We tried to rally support and the parish council considered a bid to take over the running of the library but it wasn’t financially feasible.

“It’s a major loss to the village and I just feel so sorry for the people who use it on a regular basis but generally around the village, the support for our fight to save it was rather disappointing.

“I can’t believe Fylde is losing as many libraries as it is compared to other areas of the county but it was clearly a political decision.”

In Kirkham, however, the prospect of a Neighbourhood Centre has been greeted positively, with County Coun Liz Oades saying: “The hope is that the library service at Milbanke House will be at least as good as that at present – possibly even better, with the installation of a few more computers.”

The Fylde libraries affected were among more than 100 County Council buildings confirmed for closure by the Labour-run cabinet in a bid to make savings of £150m by 2020/21.

But Labour’s cabinet was keen to stress it was a choice they never wished to make.

Council leader County Coun Jenny Mein, who chaired the meeting, said: “I don’t want to close libraries - that’s the last thing I want to do.”

She said cuts in government funding had forced the closure decisions and while it was not just Lancashire which was suffering, the county had been one of the worst hit.

The council received 7,700 responses during a 12-week consultation on closures over the summer, as well as a number of petitions.

County Coun Marcus Johnstone, Cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, said the decision on which libraries would close was based on two criteria – access and the deprivation of local communities.

Some 95 per cent of people in densely-populated areas would be within two miles of a main library and 70 per cent of those in less populated areas within three miles of a library facility.

The county council was asked by the Express for further details of job implications of the cuts and exactly what work was to be carried out at St Annes Library and when but would only confirm that Lytham and Freckleton will close on September 30 and that Ansdell would stay open longer, until an unspecified date, while the work went on to turn St Annes into a Neighbourhood Centre.