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Lincolnshire library campaigners put their case to High Court judge

Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London ahead of the judicial review into Lincolnshire County Council's decision to withdraw funding from most of its libraries. EMN-140907-131105001

Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London ahead of the judicial review into Lincolnshire County Council's decision to withdraw funding from most of its libraries. EMN-140907-131105001

Campaigners fighting cuts to council library services are cautiously optimistic following a judicial review into the decision.

A dozen members of Save Lincolnshire Libraries travelled to the High Court in London last week.

They saw Mr Justice Collins hear arguments for and against Lincolnshire County 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.

Campaign group member Julie Harrison, also from Lincoln, sat through both days of the review on Tuesday and Wednesday. She came away feeling reasonably positive about the chances of overturning the county council’s decision.

“The judge seemed to be very empathetic to our cause across the two days,” she said. “He was pleasant and made reference to the campaigners. He acknowledged our presence in the court.

“Whether he will be able to argue some of the aspects in our favour we don’t know.”

The review was brought on several points, from alleged problems with the council’s consultation to the potential failure to provide a “comprehensive” library service.

Mrs Harrison said the judge seemed more convinced by some points than others.

“The things that we were most successful with were the level of consultation and whether or not it was undertaken with an open mind,” she said.

“The consultation document wasn’t open.

“The other issue was the failure to properly examine the proposal to Greenwich Leisure.”

Not-for-profit firm Greenwich Leisure submitted a business plan to run all Lincolnshire libraries before the decision to cut funding was made.

The group initially expected to hear the outcome of the review in September. But Mrs Harrison said it was possible the news could break much earlier.

“We got the impression it would be before the end of July,” she said.

The group must now wait until the judge makes his decision. In the meantime volunteer groups across the county are preparing to take on libraries that would otherwise close should the review be rejected.

Among those are the Friends of Deepings Library, whose business plan was accepted by the council last month. The group has always maintained the Deepings Library should be council-run and the voluntary option is a last resort.

County councillor for Deeping St James Phil Dilks (Lab) has been fighting to save Deepings Library from the beginning. He said: “Rather than stick their heads in the sand, it would have been much better if the council had listened to the people of the Deepings and residents right across Lincolnshire who valued their local council-run library.”

The Friends of Deepings Library held a competition for Year 6 pupils to design a logo for the group. The winning design, pictured above, came from Deeping St James Primary School pupil Mia Coomes. She won a £15 book voucher.

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.

Executive member for libraries Coun Nick Worth (Con) said: “We’ve made our case as best we can, and feel that we’ve answered all the points raised by the campaigners.

“Before making our decision, we carried out extensive consultation and thoroughly considered the impact on our residents, and hopefully we’ve been able to demonstrate that to the court.

“However, it is now up to the judge to decide whether our decision was taken in a legal and proper manner.”

Grounds for the review

● Lincolnshire County council will no longer be providing a comprehensive and efficient library service as required by section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act,

● The consultation process was unlawful on the grounds that the outcome of consultation had been pre-determined and the basis of the information given for it was misleading,

● The council failed to give proper consideration to the needs of vulnerable people including the elderly, children and disabled people as required under the Equalities Act,

● The council did not give sufficient consideration to the bid from Greenwich Leisure to run the service as required under the Localism Act.

 

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