CAMPAIGNERS called it “cultural vandalism”, council leader Cliff Morris said it was “regrettable”, while opposition councillors wondered whether the decision was already a done deal.

The plan to axe libraries was never going to please anyone, but yesterday Town Hall chiefs decided to close — subject to consultation — five libraries as they battle to make savings of about £100 million over the next three years.

As revealed yesterday lunchtime on The Bolton News website, the libraries at Astley Bridge, Castle Hill, Highfield, Oxford Grove and Heaton have been earmarked for closure.

Astley Bridge is a Carnegie library, endowed by the 19th century American tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Cllr Morris promised the library provision at the borough’s remaining 10 branches would be “improved and enhanced”.

Campaigners have not ruled out a legal challenge, although a decision is likely to be postponed until after a High Court ruling on a decision by Brent Council in London to close six libraries.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Morris said: “It is very regrettable, but we have had to look at all the libraries and we think this is the fairest option.

“None of us want to be in a position where we are closing libraries, but we have to make cuts.”

Tom Hanley, chairman of the Save Bolton’s Libraries campaign, said: “It is cultural vandalism.

“Our Labour councillors should be standing up to the Government more than they are doing.

“We will continue to oppose all library closures and reductions in service at a time when a rational approach to libraries would be to increase expenditure to meet the needs of the rising number of unemployed and to facilitate many of the proposed government initiatives to increase literacy and IT usage.”

A six-week consultation into the plan is now under way, although one opposition member made it clear he thinks it is already a foregone conclusion.

Posting to his Twitter page during the meeting, Conservative Cllr Andy Morgan said: “Why are they having further consultation on the library closures?

“They have already made their minds up, be straight with the public.”

Responding to a question from the Lib Dem deputy leader, Cllr David Wilkinson, about whether the consultation would be meaningful, Cllr Morris said: “Consultation means consultation in Bolton and we will listen to people’s views.”

Conservative leader Cllr John Walsh said he and his Tory colleagues would take part in the consultation.

But he added: “I do have a concern as to whether holding it during the school holiday period is a wise thing to do.”