WINCHESTER councillors have raised concerns over the impact of library closures.
Martin Tod, county councillor for Winchester Westgate, said the plans to close eight libraries across the county and reduce the opening hours of the remaining ones are “a disgrace”.
But Councillor Sean Woodward, executive member for recreation and heritage at Hampshire County Council, said the result of these changes is “a high quality library service”.
The news comes libraries in Blackfield and Lyndhurst, Fair Oak, South Ham in Basingstoke, Elson library in Gosport, Horndean in East Hampshire, Lee-on-the-Solent library and Odiham library in Hart are set for closure.
All the remaining libraries will have their opening hours reduced by an average of 20%, and a consultation on this ends today.
As reported, the county council will also withdraw its support to community libraries in Lowford, Milford-on-Sea and North Baddesley.
The authority agreed to offer grants and support to the 12 libraries affected should they want to become independent libraries.
But Winchester councillors raised concerns. Cllr Tod said: “The plans are a disgrace – and a badly broken promise. What they’ve actually decided to do is pull the plug on 12 libraries. And Winchester’s Discovery Centre – which the County Council describes as Hampshire’s flagship library – will have fewer days.
“In 1851, Winchester was the first public library in the whole country to open under the 1850 Public Libraries Act. It’s a tragedy that 169 years later Hampshire’s library service is fighting for its life.”
Dominic Hiscock, county councillor for Winchester Eastgate, added: “My biggest concern is about the people who use the library for study purposes because of poor broadband or other unsatisfactory study conditions at home. The extra hours are vital to people working or studying full-time. And they’re an important place for elderly people to access the books they rely on. These cuts are so short-sighted. They’re going to hit people of all ages.”
Jackie Porter, county councillor for Itchen Valley, said rural areas “will be hit hard too”.
But Councillor Woodward said: “We are committed to providing the best library service we can within our financial means. The result of these changes is a high quality library service, one that is adapting to the needs of its customers, and that is relevant in a way that will improve literacy, life chances and wellbeing of Hampshire residents. We will maintain 40 libraries across the county, ensuring every town has a library, and, in addition, we have committed to support 12 others to become independent community libraries.
“We’ve worked hard to find new ways of working to minimise the impact of these changes on all those who use our libraries, and we have listened to their feedback from the consultation. As a result of the representations made to me, I have increased the support available for the 12 libraries to make the transition to the independent model. Approaches from groups and organisations who want to open libraries outside of their staffed hours will also be welcomed.”