The Bolton News can reveal the five libraries Town Hall chiefs are considering closing to save more than £400,000.

Bolton Council’s Executive meets at 1pm today to consider three proposals, which range from closing some libraries to closing none.

But we can reveal that the preferred option — and the one the Executive is expected to approve, subject to consultation — is one which will see five libraries, in Heaton, Astley Bridge, Highfield, Oxford Grove and Castle Hill, closed.

This option, which council leader Cllr Cliff Morris has said is the fairest and the one which will ensure the authority meets its obligations under the Public Libraries Act 1964, will see neighbourhood collection points set up in areas where libraries are to close, the remaining 10 libraries offer a “tiered” service with various opening hours to meet user demand.

Council chief executive Sean Harriss said: “What we want to do is improve and enhance the service we offer to residents. This is not a places test, this is a borough offering we have to look at.”

The closure of the library in Highfield will not be as keenly felt because that has operated out of the Orchards Centre for the last few months and that will effectively remain unchanged Under the proposal, the Central Library, in Le Mans Crescent , would be open on Sundays which also means Bolton Museum and the Aquarium can also open.

The libraries at Farnworth, Harwood, Horwich, Little Lever and Westhoughton would open for 46 hours per week while those in Breightmet and High Street will be open for 40 hours per week.

The facilities in Bromley Cross and Blackrod libraries would see their hours reduced to 24 per week, from 26.5 and 24.5 respectively.

Of the 100-plus staff who work across the borough’s library network, the council says almost 13 full time equivilents (FTE) will lose their job, although the number of actual people to be made redundant will be more because a lot of staff work fewer hours.

Cllr Morris said: “None of us want to bring a report like this forward for a decision but we have got to save money and that was agreed at the full council meeting in February.”Option two would have seen the opening hours of all libraries, including the Central, cut by up to 38 per cent, meaning libraries would be open for 188.75 hours fewer than at the moment.

It would also have an affect on the opening times of the museum and archive and would see 18.76 FTEs cut.

The third option exempts the Central Library from any cuts in hours but would have seen the hours cut at the other branches by almost half, meaning users would lose 253 hours per week. Just over 19 FTEs would be axed if that option was adopted.

Sean Harriss, chief executive of Bolton Council, said: “We do not feel that options two or three would meet the Public Libraries Act obligation. There are some things which we are allowed to do under statute and some which we are required to do.

“The act says that we are required to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient service’ and we feel that options two and three could expose us up to a legal challenge.”

Once a decision is made this afternoon, the full proposals will be under public consultation until September 16 with views sought via an open consultation, similar to the one held earlier this year on the notion of a review of libraries services, and via a postal survey which bosses hope will give a far more statisically balanced picture of people’s opinions.

A final decision on closures is expected to be made by the Executive at their meeting in October.

For a fuller story, analysis and reaction see tomorrow’s The Bolton News.