THE proposed closure of Hampshire libraries, including branches at Lyndhurst and Blackfield, has been described as “a devastating blow for communities”.
The county council has announced its intention to close eight of its 48 libraries and reduce the opening hours of the remaining ones by an average of 20%, writes Maria Zaccaro of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
The Conservative-run authority is also set to withdraw its support to four community libraries. The move, which is aimed at saving £1.76m, would put 50 jobs at risk.
County bosses said the authority will still be providing a comprehensive library service. But concerns have been raised over the proposals and the future of the four community libraries.
A final decision on the proposed changes is set to be made on 28th July.
The authority is proposing to shut libraries in Blackfield and Lyndhurst in the New Forest, plus six others in Fair Oak, Basingstoke, Gosport, Horndean, Lee-on-the-Solent and Odiham.
Chineham library in Basingstoke and Emsworth library in Havant – which were also under threat – would remain open.
According to the plans set to be approved next week, Milford’s community library is among four which will no longer be supported by HCC and will have to be run entirely by volunteers.
County bosses said these libraries will be able to apply for a one-off grant of up to £10,000 to support the transition.
But Cllr Alan Dowden, member for the Baddesley division, feared for the future of these libraries, saying: “This will be the end of them – you can’t expect people giving up their time for free, and at the same time they have to raise the funding as well.
“It’s too much and it is very unfair on people.”
Communities across the county raised concerns over the proposals and launched petitions which were presented to the county council, including one with more than 260 names to protect Blackfield library.
Cllr Keith House, leader of HCC’s Liberal Democrat opposition, said: “This is a devastating blow for 12 communities around Hampshire, alongside reductions in hours across the county.
“It shows the Conservative Party’s mismanagement of public finances in one of the wealthiest countries of the world that cannot now even afford to properly maintain a library service.”
But HCC said the eight libraries proposed for closure accounted for 5% of county council’s total issues and visits.
It said that “therefore together with the mitigation proposed and the increasing popularity of the digital service it is considered that the closure of these libraries would not affect the county council’s ability to maintain a comprehensive and efficient service”.
Cllr Sean Woodward, HCC cabinet member for recreation and heritage, said the authority was facing almost £110m of unplanned costs due to the pandemic.
He added: “We continue to work hard to minimise the impact on residents. Our proposals are that community library management groups are given enough notice to enable them time to arrange for the transition of services.
“Hampshire County Council has an excellent library service and will continue to do so with at least 40 libraries. It is important in planning library services to recognise changed circumstances as physical book borrowing drops and new services are introduced to share the printed word.
“We have listened to over 21,000 respondents and have made positive changes to our proposals as a result.”
If approved, the changes are set to be completed by the end of the year. A consultation on reduced opening hours is set to be held next month and will be followed by consultations with staff.