TOWN Hall chiefs will tonight debate the future of Bolton’s libraries in an historic discussion triggered by a 7,500- strong petition.

It will be the first time a debate has been forced since new legislation came into being last June, which obliges councils to hold public debates whenever they receive a petition of more than 4,000 signatures.

Anti-closure campaigner Ian McHugh will be allowed to address the full council at its meeting tonight for five minutes on the importance of keeping nine branches across the borough open.

The 15-minute debate comes just three weeks before the decision-making Executive is expected to make its recommendations for the future of the town’s library provision.

It is the first time that a petition has triggered a debate in the council chamber.

Mr McHugh said: “This is a very important issue and this debate will be a chance for us to put our case forward.

Our petition for Save Bolton Libraries got 7,500 signatures but one in Bromley Cross also got more than 4,000 so we are hoping to have another debate at the meeting in August.”

“We have heard nothing so far that justifies closing libraries but we live in the real world and we are more than happy to talk about how services can be changed. It will be interesting to hear what is said in the debate.”

After the Executive makes its decision on July 28, a further consultation will be held.

The reorganisation is being proposed as part of Bolton Council’s plans to save £60 million over the next two years.

The library service shakeup could potentially save £500,000.

The nine libraries — Astley Bridge, Breightmet, Bromley Cross, Castle Hill in Tonge Moor, Harwood, Heaton, High Street in Daubhill, Highfield (Orchards) in Farnworth and Oxford Grove in Halliwell — are being assessed on criteria ranging from how close they are to other libraries, to the condition of the building.

Central Library in Le Mans Crescent, as well as Farnworth, Westhoughton, Horwich, Blackrod and Little Lever libraries, are all safe.