VOLUNTEER groups are being given the chance to run one of the five closing libraries in the town.

Finance chiefs at Bolton Council are inviting people to submit business plans for each of the libraries.

Application forms go online today and groups have until December 2 to draft their initial proposals.

Steve Arnfield, the council’s director of finance, said: “It has to be a sound business case but we will meet with people and give them whatever advice we can and if they have a case then we will take it forward.

“But you have to think about these things carefully, there is a lot more to running a library in terms of costs, insurance and legal obligations. “We are serious about this and that’s why we’ve gone to the trouble of putting together a viable process. Why wouldn’t we do this if we can get something that works and adds to the library service?”

Groups will have to provide funds to rent existing library buildings — or find alternative premises — as well as cover running costs and up-keep.

Monthly rates range from around £1,200 for Oxford Grove and Heaton; to £2,000 for Highfield and £2,250 for Astley Bridge.

In addition to these costs, around £20,000 is needed to pay for two machines, one to check books in and one to check books out of libraries. A further £1,750 is needed to maintain the machines year-on-year.

Any group running Astley Bridge Library, would have to find £57,000 to carry out roof repairs to make the building safe and watertight.

Groups will be provided with a current book stock, publicity on the council website, use of existing fixtures and fittings, as well as help with initial set-up, training and support.

Council officers will evaluate business cases during December and notify groups who have presented viable proposals in January. Any successful parties will have until the end of February to complete a detailed business plan.

Local Tory chief Cllr John Walsh said his Conservative group would be presenting business cases for both Astley Bridge and Heaton libraries and encouraged residents to get in touch with their local councillor if they wanted to be involved.

He added: “We have already done quite a bit of work and we will do everything in our power to come up with robust plans for both libraries. The process is a bit rushed and we would have preferred the council to defer its plans to close libraries for 12 months.”