TWO New Forest libraries are among a number across Hampshire which have moved a step closer to shutting, putting up to 50 jobs at risk.
Eight of the 48 council-run libraries across the county are set to close as civic chiefs try to save £1.76m, writes Maria Zaccaro of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
Hampshire County Council is proposing to shut libraries in Blackfield and Lyndhurst in the New Forest, Fair Oak Library in Fair Oak, South Ham in Basingstoke, Elson library in Gosport, Horndean in East Hampshire, Lee-on-the-Solent library in Gosport and Odiham library in Hart.
All the remaining libraries would have their opening hours reduced by 20%, with a public consultation on the details set to be launched next month.
But HCC bosses said the opening hours of some libraries could increase or decrease by up to nearly 40% “to achieve a standardised approach”.
The authority is also proposing to withdraw its support from three community libraries, including Milford, which would be turned into independent community-managed branches.
HCC said volunteers running these libraries will be able to apply for grants to support the transition and will have access to a larger stock, thanks to a membership scheme.
The proposals will be recommended for approval when Cllr Sean Woodward, HCC’s Conservative cabinet member for recreation and heritage, makes a final decision next Tuesday.
The plans follow more than 21,000 residents taking part in a public consultation launched by HCC earlier this year.
Then, it proposed the closure of up to 10 libraries, including those in Chineham and Emsworth, with a 15% reduction in opening hours for those remaining.
This was regarded as the county council’s preferred option but residents were also asked to have their say on a different option which would have involved no closures but a 25% reduction in opening hours for all of the 48 libraries.
Civic chiefs said that 58% of those who responded to the consultation preferred to avoid closures.
HCC said the proposals to close eight libraries and reduce opening hours by 20% took into account the outcome of the public consultation.
Cllr Woodward said the county council does not intend to sell the buildings off, adding: “We want to see these buildings remain in community use.”
Talking about the jobs at risk, Cllr Woodward said the council was looking into voluntary rather than compulsory redundancies, and hoped to offer new opportunities to affected employees.
The news comes as official documents revealed that, due to the pandemic, the county council must save hundreds of thousands of pounds by 2023.
Asked whether this means more libraries will be under threat over the coming years, Cllr Woodward said: “I really hope we won’t get to that situation. I think it is important that we get a period of stability which we had for a long period in Hampshire.”
He said the current proposals will still guarantee a comprehensive library service in Hampshire.