THE final plan for the future of Bolton’s threatened libraries has been unveiled by council chiefs.
Five libraries — Astley Bridge, Oxford Grove, Heaton, Highfield and Castle Hill — will shut next year. The Heaton building will, however, be retained as a community hub and children’s centre; and one new full-time post has been created to man neighbourhood collections.
The council's full 200-page report is online now.
Bolton Central Library will open on Sundays and, in a change to the original proposals, some bank holidays.
The closures come as Bolton Council strives to save £400,000 from libraries as part of wider £60 million budget cuts over two years, enforced by a reduction in central Government funding.
Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris said: “We have listened to what people have said.”
He said the council had calculated that most people would still have a library within two miles of their home.
He added: “We are asking people to travel that little bit further for a comprehensive library service.
“We will try to mitigate the changes as much as we can with neighbourhood collections. No one wants to do this.”
The equivalent of 13 full-time posts will go, but the council said it believes it can achieve this through “natural wastage”, with some posts currently vacant, and other staff putting themselves forward for voluntary redundancy.
The council had “a good response” to the consultation — with 793 people returning one of the 7,000 surveys sent out by post to random households across the borough — with 65 per cent agreeing with the council’s preferred option.
Close to 2,000 people also completed the online survey or completed a form at a library, with 44per cent agreeing with the proposals.
Council chief executive Sean Harriss said the authority had invested in libraries over the years and that it had not been a “Cinderella service”. He said a quality service in the remaining libraries was preferred over cutting hours across the board.
He added: “It could have been easy to cut hours, but here we have retained quality in the remainder of the libraries.
“We believe this is the right thing to do. It is not a knee-jerk reaction.
“Our view is that we are not reducing the quality of the service, but instead asking people to travel further, and we believe that is the lesser of two evils.”
Mr Harriss said he did not support the option of setting up a trust to run the council’s library services, or the use of volunteers working alongside library staff.
He said this could leave the council open to legal challenges. There will be no changes to the library services provided in schools.
These collections will be phased in over the next six months and the five libraries will be closed before the start of the next financial year.
Ian McHugh, secretary of Save Bolton Libraries Campaign said: “We understand that despite an overwhelming rejection of its proposals by thousands of petitions and survey forms, Bolton Council intends to press ahead with its short sighted and destructive plans to close a third of our libraries.
“The council said it would listen to the views of local people. About 15,000 people signed petitions against library closure earlier in the year, and of the 2,000 people who completed the council’s recent survey, more than half rejected the council’s preferred option.”
In political terms, it was left to the Conservatives to campaign against the closures, a move branded as hypocritical by Labour councillors, who blame the Tory-led coalition Government for forcing swingeing cuts to frontline services.
But local Tory chief Cllr John Walsh remains resolute in his belief that while cuts are necessary, libraries could have been spared the chop, by setting up charitable trusts and using volunteers.
Reacting to the results of the consultation, Cllr Walsh last night said: “It is very clear they have not taken any notice of what’s been said. I’m pleased that Heaton library will be retained as a building, but really, the council has dismissed so many arguments. They have had their minds made up from the start.”
A special meeting of the council full executive, which is open to the public, will be held in the Festival Hall, at 10am, next Wednesday, when the eight members of the Labour executive are expected to rubber stamp the proposals.