Brighter future for under-threat Northants libraries with new plan

Protestors against the closure of Middleton Cheney Library in the south of the county.
Protestors against the closure of Middleton Cheney Library in the south of the county.

The future for under-threat libraries in south Northamptonshire is looking brighter after the council unveiled a plan for the vast majority to remain open today (Monday, December 3).

After 12 months of drama and uncertainty surrounding the library provision in Northamptonshire, the county council has released a revised plan which will see 14 of the county’s 36 libraries remain under its control and the remaining 22 hopefully handed over to community groups to manage.

Brackley’s library will be kept by Northamptonshire County Council, Middleton Cheney’s will be community managed with council support and Woodford Halse’s will be community managed without support.

However, the council’s chief executive Theresa Grant has said that some of the 12 library buildings which the council itself owns will close, details of which have not yet been released.

This new plan brings to a close a dark chapter for the libraries in the county, which saw the council spend £200,000 earlier this summer on a high court battle after library campaigners fought plans announced in March to close 21 libraries.

Cllr Cecile Irving-Swift, county council cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “At the heart of this proposal is the fact that we’ve worked with some wonderful community groups who clearly have a passion for books and libraries.

“As such we’ve been able to sit down and draw up unique plans with the groups so that a model is proposed that is workable in each location.

“The plans deliver a budget saving while at the same time ensuring the long-term future of the service – a proposal which I am delighted to endorse.”

The council cannot consider maintaining the library service in its current form due to budgetary constraints and the need to deliver savings.

The proposal comes as the council unveiled its budget for 2019/20 which it says sees a ‘change of approach’ with £43m of savings by raising council tax – but the cuts seem less brutal than expected.

The new scheme will see 14 libraries run by county council staff, five libraries to be community managed with support from the council and 17 libraries to be managed by community groups.

The authority says discussions are still ongoing with Irchester, far Cotton and St James in Northampton.

The authority says the new scheme has been devised after extensive talks with community groups and the district, borough and parish councils. It also says there will be investment in a new community health and wellbeing hub in Weston Favell.

The 14 which remain in NCC control will be reviewed to increase footfall and maximise income.

There was some controversy around  Irchester library as it was built by funds from Andrew Carnegie  more than 100 years ago on land donated to the parish council.

The libraries which will remain run by NCC are: Corby, Kettering, Rushden, Wellingborough, Daventry, Towcester, Weston Favell, Northampton Central, Hunsbury, Irthlingborough, Oundle, Duston, Brixworth and Brackley.

The five libraries which will be community managed with NCC support are: Desborough, Thrapston, Earls Barton, Deanshanger and Middleton Cheney.

The libraries at Rothwell, Raunds, Higham Ferrers, Long Buckby, Far Cotton, Woodford Halse, Wollaston, Moulton, Kingsthorpe, Roade, Wootton, Danesholme, St James, Abington, Burton Latimer, Finedon and Irchester will become community managed.

The plans will go before cabinet next week (December 11) and will then be subject to an eight-week consultation.