Lib Dems launch petition to stop library closures

Seven libraries could close in East Sussex
Seven libraries could close in East Sussex

A petition has been launched to stop library closures in Ringmer and Polegate proposed by the county council.

East Sussex County Council’s cabinet will be asked to approve a consultation on the library service’s strategic commissioning strategy – which includes shutting seven of 24 libraries – when it meets on Tuesday, September 19.

The seven locations earmarked for closure are Polegate, Ringmer, Mayfield, Langney, Pevensey Bay, Willingdon, and Ore.

According to the council the proposals are aimed at targeting ‘increasingly limited resources to areas where they will have the greatest impact on improving residents’ lives’, as the number of people using East Sussex libraries has fallen by 40 per cent in the last decade.

However the libraries could still remain open, if they can be funded wholly by communities or other organisations, or taken over by groups to run as alternative community facilities.

A petition has been launched by the Lib Dems opposing the proposed library closures at Ringmer and Polegate.

It says: “These closures are unnecessary and detrimental to local communities, and Liberal Democrats are campaigning to have these proposed cuts reversed. Please sign our petition and add your voice to stop these cuts.”

Philip Daniel, Lib Dem County Councillor for Ringmer and Lewes Bridge, added: “I shall strongly oppose the Conservative-run county council’s plan to close Ringmer Library, and no less than six other village libraries in East Sussex.

“Part of the council’s justification is that Ringmer Library users live within a twenty minute drive or a 30 minute bus journey to Lewes Library.

“Many Ringmer residents do not have the time or the money to go to Lewes Library when it is open under its already reduced hours.

“Ringmer Library provides a valuable service to elderly people, disabled people, unemployed people, parents with children - in fact to the whole community.“The council’s document says the proposals ‘focus more acutely on need than before’ seeing libraries as helping children to learn to read and adults to get jobs. That fails to acknowledge that our libraries are part of our communities and help all the people within them.

“I urge everyone to object in any public consultation and to sign our petition.”

Kelly-Marie Blundell, the Lib Dems’ candidate for Lewes in June’s general election and her party’s parliamentary candidate in case of a snap election, said she was ‘appalled’ at the proposed closure of the libraries in Ringmer and Polegate.

She added: “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.”

Meanwhile Maria Caulfield, Tory MP for Lewes, said: “I am very disappointed that there are plans to close the libraries in Ringmer and Polegate.

“The community in Ringmer only recently re opened their new library facility in the village hall and so to close this would be a huge loss to the community.

“I have already contacted those involved in Ringmer library and the town council in Polegate to see if there is a way we can work together to keep library services going. While I know that the numbers of people using library services overall has dropped, they are a valuable community service and I have been reassured by the county council that if we can look at innovative ways of providing the services locally they will support the community in doing so.

“I would urge the county councillors of both areas to stand up for their local areas and work with me on this to protect these vital services.”

Daniel Shing (Ind Dem, Polegate and Watermill) said: “It is sad news for our residents in Polegate, Willingdon and surrounding villages.

“The number of people using libraries in the county has fallen is true, but it might not as high as ESCC reported by 40 per cent in the last 10 years.

“I notice for some time now ESCC have removed the counting device in our library, the usage could be higher if those use the library and do not borrow a book. We have double the proportion here than in Hampden Park.

“It is very strange that Hampden Park library is remaining open, which is closer to Eastbourne town centre library than Polegate.

“Our residents in Stone Cross will have no choice have to use Eastbourne Town Centre Library as both Polegate and Pevensey Bay are going to close.

“I understand the reductions in funding and the need make changes to how county to provide the service, to close three out of seven it seems our area have been targeted the most.”

The new library service’s strategic commissioning strategy’s key elements are: an improved elibrary service, a new children and young people’s offer to improve literacy, and a focus on outreach for communities and individuals with the greatest needs.

Meanwhile an officers’ report claims 100 per cent of library members at the seven locations due to be closed live within a 20 minute journey time by car to the other 17 libraries, and more than 96 per cent live within a 30 minute journey time by public transport.

The mobile library service, which as more than 2,900 members of which 1,100 have used it in the last 12 months, could also be axed, with additional support provided instead to those 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 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.

Mr Skelton 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 library users and those who do not currently use the service will be encouraged to comment in the consultation, which would run for 12 weeks from September to December.

What do you think of plans? Email the newsdesk.