Campaigners have won their High Court battle against library closures in Lincolnshire.
Members of the Save Lincolnshire Libraries group were at the court in London today (Thursday) to hear Mr Justice Collins uphold their challenge to the council’s decision to withdraw funding from 32 of its 47 libraries.
One of those to lose its funding was Deepings Library in High Street, Market Deeping. The case was brought by Lincoln resident Simon Draper on behalf of county residents.
Lincolnshire county councillor for Deeping St James Phil Dilks (Lab) was one of those who opposed the council’s decision from the start and was in court today to hear the judge’s decision.
He said: “This is absolutely fantastic news.
“The council stuck their heads in the sand. They should have listened to the people of Lincolnshire and particularly the people of the Deepings.
“Half of the people of the Deepings signed the petition and they still refused to listen. They should hang their heads in shame.
“They should immediately restore our libraries to what they were previously and they should do that using some of the £41m that they underspent in the past year.”
The judge upheld two of the four grounds for the review. They were that the consultation was flawed and the council failed to properly consider a proposal by not-for-profit group Greenwich Leisure to run the whole library service.
He said the decision the council made in December should be quashed and an appeal would be unlikely to succeed.
Complaints that the couuncil would no longer be providing a comprehensive service as required by section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act and that it failed to properly consider the needs of vulnerable people were not upheld.
Volunteer groups across the county have been preparing to take on the libraries that would otherwise close. Among those are the Friends of Deepings Library, whose business plan was accepted by the council last month. The group has always maintained Deepings Library should be council-run and the voluntary option was a last resort.
The volunteers will now have to wait and see what the council does next.
Save Lincolnshire Libraries spokesman John Hough said: “We hope this decision will mean that people throughout Lincolnshire will continue to be able to access a properly run public library service which will continue to be run by experienced staff supported by volunteers. Who will run this service is now open to question.
W”hat came out in court is that Greenwich Leisure is a substantial organisation with lots of ideas about how to maintain, run and improve the library service and they and others like them should now have an opportunity to properly put forward their plans.
“While Save Lincolnshire Libraries would have preferred the Library Service to remain with the County Council, it has become clear that they are unwilling to invest in and maintain the service now and in the future. In our view a new provider would now be the best option.”
Executive director of Lincolnshire County Council Richard Wills said: “We are, of course, disappointed with the decision.
“We believe that our proposals would have increased library provision in the county, while also making substantial savings, meaning taxpayers would be getting a much better deal.
“The judge agreed there was a need to make savings, that our proposals would meet our statutory duties and that we’d carefully considered the impact on all residents.
“However, his decision means we will now need to undertake further consultation and re-examine the proposal from Greenwich Leisure Ltd.
“Ironically, although we must consider that proposal as a community offer to take over the council’s services under the Localism Act, it could lead to the library service being put out to procurement and outsourced to a commercial organisation.
“We will now address the points raised by the judge and remain open-minded.
“However, we need to take time to consider the best way forward, and will announce our next steps in the near future.
“In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep in close contact with the communities wanting to become involved in running library services.
“What this judgement doesn’t change is the need for us to find further yearly savings of £90m by 2018.”
The county council has always maintained it acted properly when making the decision to cut library services in an attempt to save £2m from the £6m annual budget.